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Elissa Nadworny

Elissa Nadworny covers higher education and college access for NPR. She's led the NPR Ed team's multiplatform storytelling – incorporating radio, print, comics, photojournalism, and video into the coverage of education. In 2017, that work won an Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation. As an education reporter for NPR, she's covered many education topics, including new education research, chronic absenteeism, and some fun deep-dives into the most popular high school plays and musicals and the history behind a classroom skeleton.

After the 2016 election, she traveled with Melissa Block across the U.S. for series "Our Land." They reported from communities large and small, capturing how people's identities are shaped by where they live.

Prior to coming to NPR, Nadworny worked at Bloomberg News, reporting from the White House. A recipient of the McCormick National Security Journalism Scholarship, she spent four months reporting on U.S. international food aid for USA Today, traveling to Jordan to talk with Syrian refugees about food programs there. In addition to USA Today, she's written stories for Dow Jones' MarketWatch, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald and McClatchy DC.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Nadworny has a bachelor's degree in documentary film from Skidmore College and a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

So poor was the education she received at her public high school, Pilar Vega Martinez had to take an extra year to study for the Prueba de Selección Universitaria — the Chilean version of the SAT.

The work paid off. Her score on the exam was good enough to get her into the top-rated University of Chile. Vega is now in her third year, studying to be a nurse. And thanks to an important change in government policy, life got easier after that: She didn't have to pay.

When Rhonda Gonzales was in college in the early '90s, the term "first-generation" wasn't part of her vocabulary. Sure, she was the first in her family to go to college and she did have a sense of discomfort on campus — not quite fitting in. But it wasn't something she advertised, or even identified with, and no one else on campus seemed to care much, either.

A federal judge has fined U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for contempt of court for failing to stop collecting loans from former students of a now-defunct chain of for-profit colleges.

The court ruling orders the Education Department to pay a $100,000 fine. The judge said Devos had violated an order to stop collecting loans owed by students who had been defrauded by Corinthian Colleges.

Between studying for her weekly anatomy and physiology exam, and writing an English paper, Kate Hough somehow finds time for coloring, dress-up parties and putting together four different Halloween costumes (a princess, a cowgirl and two clowns).

Hough is working toward her nursing degree at Mount Wachusett Community College, in central Massachusetts, while raising four kids — two toddlers and two in elementary school.

Kate Szumanski still remembers the note her professor wrote at the top of an essay in her senior year: "This is a good argument ... Why don't you come visit me at office hours and we'll talk about graduate school."

By all accounts this was a good note. Szumanski got an A on the paper – and she'd done well in the political science class all semester. But that note terrified her. "I started to shake, my cheeks turned bright red," she told me recently. In all four years of college, she'd never once gone to office hours.

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

A judge has ruled in favor of Harvard University in a high-profile court case centered on whether the school's admissions process forces Asian Americans to clear a higher bar to get in.

For many college students settling into their dorms this month, the path to campus — and paying for college — started long ago. And it likely involved their families.

The pressure to send kids to college, coupled with the realities of tuition, has fundamentally changed the experience of being middle class in America, says Caitlin Zaloom, an anthropologist and associate professor at New York University. It's changed the way that middle class parents raise their children, she adds, and shaped family dynamics along the way.

On Monday, nearly 60,000 public school students in El Paso, Texas, will start the school year amid an air of mourning, fear and resilience.

The first day of school in El Paso's largest district comes more than a week after a mass shooting at a local Walmart left 22 people dead. According to a police affidavit, the suspect charged in the attack later said he had intentionally targeted "Mexicans."

Roughly 9 million children — nearly 1 in 5 public school students in the U.S. — attend schools that are racially isolated and receive far less money than schools just a few miles away. That's according to a sweeping new review of the nation's most divisive school district borders from EdBuild, a nonprofit that investigates school funding inequities.

Most days, 25-year-old Chavonne can push her student loan debt to the back of her mind.

Between short-term office jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, she drives for Uber. But once in awhile, a debt collector will get hold of her cellphone number — the one she keeps changing to avoid them — and it all comes back fresh. "I'll be like, 'Oh no!' " she says. "It's a sad reminder that I owe somebody money!"

In April, she got another reminder when the government seized her tax refund.

All this for a degree she never finished.

Lots of people have student loans: more than 45 million people. They collectively owe about $1.6 trillion.

That is, of course, a lot of debt — but amid all the national debate right now about what to do about it, it's important to remember that not all debt is created equal, and some borrowers are struggling more than others.

They are early risers and hard workers. They have a "talent for struggling through" and the determination that follows. Some are the first in their family to go to college — or even graduate from high school — and many are financially independent from their parents. They're often struggling to pay for rent, groceries and transportation while taking classes. And that means working while in school — in retail, on campus or even with a lawn care business.

Raymond Tillman spent most of his adolescence and early adulthood behind bars. His last release — after three stints inside — was in 2011. When he got out, he had a lot to catch up on — like, the digital age.

"When I first came home I was illiterate to technology," he explains. "Didn't know how to turn on a computer, let alone what an email was." But he needed a job, and to get one, he'd need to be able to apply online.

When Akiya Parks first got to campus at the University of Florida, everything was new and exciting. Her mom and brother had driven her to campus and moved her into the dorms, she'd agreed to try a long-distance relationship with her high school boyfriend, she was ready to start a new chapter in Gainesville.

Inmates are among the least-educated people in America. That's despite research that shows education is one of the most effective ways to keep people from coming back to prison.

Now, there's renewed interest in giving adults behind bars better access to higher education. A new bipartisan bill in Congress would allow incarcerated people to use federal Pell Grants — designed for low-income students — to pay for higher education, including college classes and workforce training.

A new musical explores life in high school in a way that's eerily familiar. It's called Ranked, and it's set in a dystopian world where your class rank — determined by grades and test scores — governs everything from where you sit to what your future holds.

This time last year, McKenna Hensley had a big question on her mind: Where would she go to college? The answer — sort of — was somewhere in her pile of 10 financial aid offers. Each school she'd been admitted to had its own individualized letter, terms and calculations.

"It was very confusing," the now college freshman remembers.

It's no secret that wealth brings advantages when it comes to sending your kids to college. Rich and famous parents can donate large sums of money to schools or lean on their names and connections. Some ritzy colleges explicitly prefer the children and grandchildren of alumni — at Harvard University, an investigation found last year that these "legacy" admits were over five times more likely to get in than the average Joe.

A new father trying to provide for his family. A grandmother finishing what she started more than four decades ago. A man navigating multiple schools, hidden curriculums and financial hurdles. These are just some of the older students working toward a degree in the U.S.

You're reading NPR's weekly roundup of education news.

An end to the Denver teacher strike

Denver teachers returned to the classroom this week after the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and Denver Public Schools reached a tentative labor agreement Thursday morning. Teachers in Denver had been on strike since Monday.

Getting students to show up is one of the biggest challenges schools face: How can someone learn at school if they're not there in the first place?

A new study suggests living in a high-crime area, or simply passing through one on the way to school, can impact how often students show up to class.

For many college students, a crucial step on the path to a good job — or career — is the internship. It's a chance to gain vital experience and prove yourself to employers.

But to get that internship, you need a network, and a good resume. Both are things many students struggle with, especially those at community colleges.

Students like Kelcei Williams. She attends Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge, Va. When she got to campus, her only experience was at Dunkin' Donuts and Lowe's Home Improvement.

The teachers union in Denver has voted to approve a strike that could begin as soon as Jan. 28. It would be the first time the city has seen a teacher strike in almost 25 years.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association finished voting late Tuesday after more than a year of negotiations between the union and the district, which have failed to yield an agreement.

Updated 9:38 a.m. ET Thursday

Union members in Los Angeles voted to approve a deal with the city's school district on Tuesday, ending a six-day teacher strike. Teachers headed back to class on Wednesday.

According to a Wednesday news release, 81 percent of United Teachers Los Angeles members who cast a ballot voted in favor of the agreement.

"I couldn't be prouder to be a teacher tonight," said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl at a Tuesday news conference in which he announced the preliminary results.

As parents across Los Angeles dropped their kids off at school Monday morning, they were greeted by picket lines of teachers, many dressed in red ponchos and holding red umbrellas.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, educators in LA are on strike.

"Teachers want what students need," a crowd outside Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School in Boyle Heights chanted in the pouring rain.

Updated Monday at 10:16 a.m.ET.

Los Angeles public school teachers went on strike Monday morning, a result of failed negotiations between the teachers union and the school district.

The strike has looked inevitable since Friday, when United Teachers Los Angeles rejected another offer from district leaders.

"We are more convinced than ever that the district won't move without a strike," declared union President Alex Caputo-Pearl at a Sunday press conference.

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Updated Saturday at 1:08 p.m. ET.

On Friday, Los Angeles teacher Rosa Jimenez started her U.S. History class with a question for her students:

"What does a labor union do?"

The juniors inside the library at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools flip through their notes. From the back of the room, a student named Ingrid shoots up her hand:

"A labor union is an organization of workers that's formed for the purpose of benefiting the workers," she explains. They deal with "wages and benefits and working conditions."

College students across the country struggle with food insecurity.

Tuition and books, plus many hours away from a job, can be a huge financial burden on students — and for many, skipping meals can be a last-minute solution to a bad financial situation.

A new government report finds that millions of college students are very likely struggling. And the report — which is from the Government Accountability Office — concludes that the federal systems in place could do a better job of helping them.

There are hundreds of books about picking the best college. But let's face it: Most of them are written for high schoolers. In reality, 40 percent of college students are 25 or older — well out of high school — and many have kids, full-time jobs or both. (We've written about this before.)

Now, a new book by Rebecca Klein-Collins offers advice and guidance for the adult student looking to go to college.

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