Loyola student crowdfunds 4 years’ tuition


Jasmine Harris Smith, accounting freshman, stands in her room in Biever Hall. After being evicted from Loyola, families from Harris Smith’s high school helped her crowdfund her entire Loyola education in less than 24 hours. Photo credit: Dannielle Garcia

Dannielle Garcia

Many students would agree the start of college is one of the most exciting yet difficult times in their lives. For Jasmine Harris Smith, accounting freshman, the beginning of college was tougher than expected.

Smith came from a single parent home. Her mother worked long hours as a nurse practitioner in Miami, Florida. Through scholarships and a mentoring program called Honey Shine, Smith was able to attend Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, an International Baccalaureate private high school.

“I am just so blessed,” Smith said, reflecting on her opportunity to attend Carrollton.

Smith hoped for a similar experience in college. She said the sense of community, diversity and acceptance is what drew her to Loyola University New Orleans because it mirrored her small, private high school.

When summer was coming to a close, she packed up all that she could bring and flew to New Orleans. However, after moving into her dorm and settling into her classes, she received some terrible news.

Loyola had given her an eviction notice. She had 24 hours to pack up and move out because she had failed to pay a balance on her semester tuition before school started.

“I thought I was okay and I would be able to come here and work off my loans during the semester,” Harris Smith said, “but it was a misunderstanding on my part. I guess I didn’t ask enough questions, and that was my fault.”

She took on the sole responsibility of financing her college career at age 17, and despite efforts by the university and her family to help her stay, no one in her family had the money or the credit to co-sign on the $4,883 loan.

Trying to be strong, she packed up her belongings one more time and booked a one-way ticket back home, financed by Honey Shine.

“I have a very good support system so going home, I was okay with that. I told myself going home wasn’t that bad of an option because I could go to the community college for two years and save up to come back to Loyola,” Harris Smith said.

Harris Smith said that when her mother picked her up from the airport, she could not stop crying and apologizing for not being able to provide the means to keep her daughter at Loyola.

That night, Harris Smith wrote on her class Facebook page what had happened and received an outpouring of love and support. Anne Marie Estevez, whose daughter graduated from Carrollton with Harris Smith, was devastated by the news.

“She’s that girl who made it against all odds. She worked so hard and when I heard what happened, I honestly pulled my car over and started crying,” Estevez said. “All of this could have been avoided if she had additional guidance and expertise that has to be available.”

Immediately, Estevez started calling around, trying to get in contact with Jasmine to hear the full story. After talking with “Jazzy,” as her classmates call her, Estevez begged her to allow her story to be told. Harris Smith was reluctant at first but came around because of the difference she might be able to make.

“I was more willing to tell my story not because of me but because of the people that come after me, the girls that are in my same situation that have no way of going to a good college that they deserve to be in because of their financial issues,” Harris Smith said.

“Everything she did was so much more impactful because it was not expected; she never had a silver spoon in her mouth,” Estevez said.

Estevez made a fundraising page on YouCaring.com, a crowdsourcing website, and sent the link to 25 mothers of the Carrollton class. She said she did not expect much and set a fundraising goal of $19,532–enough to get Harris Smith through at least two years of school.

“And from there it spiraled. Everything was fixed in a matter of 24 hours,” Estevez said.

Within those 24 hours, the page had been shared more than 2,300 times and raised $41, 741 which was nearly double the original goal. With that, she was able to fly back to New Orleans in time for the second week of classes and have enough money to pay for four years of college.

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This Sept. 16 screenshot shows the completed YouCaring campaign that raised enough money for Jasmine Harris Smith, accounting freshman, to stay at Loyola for four years.

Cristy Arazoza A’13, who graduated from both Carrollton and Loyola, met Jasmine when she hosted a Loyola admitted student cocktail party at her house in Miami.

“When I met Jasmine, she was so sweet and excited to go to Loyola. I remember thinking it was like a breath of fresh air,” Arazoza said. “I got on Facebook one day and I saw that a bunch of people were sharing this story, and when I made the connection that it was her, I was just floored.”

Estevez said that exceeding the goal wasn’t even the best part. She said the comment wall was flooded with well wishes from friends, strangers and Carrollton alumni.

“The most beautiful part was to read the hundreds of comments about their love and support for Jasmine,” she said. “Of course I am so proud of my daughter, but in many respects I am more proud of Jasmine, because Jasmine, she climbed a mountain,” Estevez said.

Harris Smith said the Carrollton community and her faith gave her the opportunity to attend and eventually graduate from Loyola, which she is the first in her family to do.

“I’m still standing, and I’m still proud, and I still have so much hope and optimism in my heart. And having a family that supports me every single day, no matter what I do, you can’t substitute anything with that kind of love that people show you,” Harris Smith said.