Aid saves education from life’s twists

Life’s twists made financing Colby Robbins’ education tough. Like her, more UNC students than ever qualify for need-based aid.

Colby Robbins first heard about UNC as a little girl in upstate New York with dreams of soccer stardom. Long before she could apply to college, she wanted to come to Carolina. “This was my top choice. Mia Hamm went here!” she said.

Her dream of going to UNC came closer to reality, in a way, through an unfortunate turn of events for her father, Steven. When Toshiba closed the plant where her dad worked and relocated operations to Mexico, the Robbins family moved to North Carolina.

Three Robbins children headed to college in short succession and their mother’s temporary unemployment put a strain on the Robbins’ budget. “It was tough on all of us,” Colby Robbins recalled.


But one day a letter from the Johnston Scholars program arrived and Colby’s mother, Karen Robbins, hurried to the Subway shop to show it to her daughter, the “sandwich artist.” “Being named a Johnston Scholar took some stress off me,” she said. “I think we would have made it, but my brother took out a lot of student loans when he went to UNC-Charlotte.”

Colby Robbins hasn’t taken out any student loans because the Johnston Scholarship covered her demonstrated need. That need increased when tuition rose and she incurred some unexpected medical expenses. In her first year at Carolina, severe abdominal pain landed her in the hospital.

They thought I had kidney stones.

“They thought I had kidney stones,” she said. But that wasn’t all. When her stomach trouble flared up again in the summer, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammation of the lining of the digestive track. “Any time I ate, my stomach would hurt and I would throw up a lot. It was hard for food to get through my body,” she said.

There’s no cure for Crohn’s, but there is treatment that involves intravenous infusions for two-hour stretches every eight weeks – not convenient and not cheap. But Robbins takes it in stride. Stress only makes Crohn’s disease worse, so the psychology and biology double major tries not to worry. “I honestly don’t know what I’ll do with my degree,” the rising junior said. “But I would like to get out of the food service industry.”

In Indian Trail, a Union County town just outside Charlotte, Steven Robbins got a job as a security guard and later became warehouse manager for Knight Hardwood and Flooring. Her mom, Karen, was executive assistant to a vice president at Bona, a hardwood finishing company. But just as Colby began applying for college, her mother lost her job.

At the same time, her older sister, Kelsey, was a junior at UNC-Charlotte and her younger brother, Travis, was a year behind Colby, also preparing for college. All three Robbins kids worked their way through high school and on breaks. Her mom took two jobs, one with the Union County Chamber of Commerce and another on weekends at the Hampton Inn. “And Dad already works a bunch of overtime as it is,” she said.

Published August 13, 2012.