Carolina Journal‘s Kari Travis reports:

Margaree Brown grew up in Everetts, North Carolina. Her high school had fewer than 400 students. Her graduating class was a group of just 40.

Now a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Brown is a first-generation college student and one of only five people from her high school class still in college.

“I was like, ‘I need to go to college, I need a degree, and I need to get out of Martin County,’” Brown told a group of college administrators, lawmakers, and other public officials Friday, April 5, during a roundtable discussion about student success and graduation rates.

“I love home, but there wasn’t much there for me,” she said. “I wanted to provide for my family. I wanted to be that success story for my family.”

Brown is one example of a much larger population, one of low-income and first-generation college students less likely than their more affluent peers to complete college once they’ve started. Between 2014 and 2016, 4 million undergraduates quit school before completing a degree, data from the U.S. Department of Education show. Local numbers show 905,000 North Carolinians have begun some form of higher education, only to leave before finishing their degrees, said Andrew Kelly, the University of North Carolina System’s vice president for strategy and policy.

Known as “part-way home students,” their growing numbers are a problem. Lawmakers and education officials are taking notice.

On Friday, North Carolina legislators and public higher education officials gathered at UNC Greensboro to discuss “Unlikely,” a documentary film about America’s college dropout crisis. The production, created by filmmakers Jaye and Adam Fenderson, takes a close look at “part-way home” students, who have some college experience but who dropped out because of financial, social, or other barriers.

Brown was one of three student panelists to join Adam Fenderson and UNC Greensboro Provost Dana Dunn in a discussion about how the university is promoting student success. Seniors Nicholas Smurthwaite and McKayla Bohannon, also first-generation college-goers from small towns, spoke alongside Brown.

Read more about the panel here.