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Sara Marques was 16 when she earned her first paycheck by working at a doughnut shop. Although she saved half of her earnings and was free to spend the rest, Marques wasn’t about to squander the balance on impulse buys.

“I work too hard,” says Marques, 19, who enrolled at the University of Bridgeport (UB) in the fall of 2016 as a freshman accounting major.

That’s an understatement. In summer, Marques typically works six days a week as a waitress and a bank teller. During the school year, she works part-time on campus as a peer tutor. She uses earnings from her current jobs—along with contributions from her parents—to help pay for college.

But Marques gets her biggest assist from Connecticut Promise, UB’s newest financial aid package for Connecticut residents.

Under the program, in-state freshmen and transfer students can enroll at UB for virtually the same cost of a public university. For Connecticut students paying tuition, fees, room, and board in 2017-2018, that works out to $19,500 after all financial aid has been applied. In-state full-time commuting students pay no more than $13,000.

That price cap makes a massive difference to Marques. “No matter how hard I work, it wouldn’t have been enough,’ she said. “Without the generous help of Connecticut Promise, I probably would not have attended the University of Bridgeport.”

Nationwide, other students are not so lucky. Since 1995, more than 31 million students who enrolled in college dropped out before earning a degree or certificate, according to National Student Clearinghouse. Of those, one-third left during their freshman year. Most left because they could not afford college.

“For too many students, college is a dream that’s financially out of reach. Through our Connecticut Promise and other financial-assistance programs, we are committed to helping make it reality for all of our students,” said Vice President for Enrollment Management Karissa Peckham.

In just over a year, more than 500 in-state students have received financial assistance for their UB education under the Connecticut Promise program. It’s just one piece of UB’s expansive financial support, which is awarded to 96 percent of students and helps them graduate with far less debt than the national average.

According to an independent study by Student Loan Report, UB is among the 150 most affordable private colleges in the U.S. Moreover, UB’s average loan debt per student is the fourth lowest in the state—lower than UConn’s and lower than the typical debt load at public universities nationwide.

With financial aid programs like Connecticut Promise, students like Marques say their potential for success is brighter than ever.

“I’ve left my mark,” said Marques, who was elected president of the Class of 2020. “I’ve grown in so many ways.”

For more information about Connecticut Promise, visit http://www.bridgeport.edu/ctpromise/