One Flat Tire Away

“When Megan Reid graduated from high school in Lenoir County, North Carolina, she had dreams of becoming a scientist. She secured a full ride to East Carolina University, in Greenville, N.C., to study chemistry but had to drop out when she became pregnant with her son, Dylan, now 7.

‘After that, I kind of piddled around,’ Reid said. ‘I did waitressing, I did little odd jobs, I worked Walmart. Stuff like that.’

Three years ago, Reid decided to throw herself back into education at Lenoir Community College, about 20 miles down the road — a 30-minute trek on long backroads through the countryside — to study medical billing and coding.

It takes a lot of travel to get between home, work, and school. When she was taking classes in person, Reid said she spent at least two hours a day driving.

Reid lives in the home she grew up in, with her mother, brother, and son. She has neighbors to either side, but otherwise, the home is surrounded by fields of corn and collards. Reid’s home lies right on the edge of Lenoir County, about an hour-an-a-half drive southeast of Raleigh. It’s a largely low-income area where nearly one in five people live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and only about 15 percent have received a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to roughly 38 percent nationally.

Reid’s situation got tougher when the transmission on her old Jeep started to go in the summer of 2021. Replacing it, Reid said, would cost several thousand dollars, and the auto shop couldn’t get one anytime soon.

While her Jeep languished in the shop, unusable, she had to share a car with her mom. She could only work the night shift, starting work at 5:30 p.m. and getting off at 2 or 3 in the morning. On the nights she didn’t work, she took night classes. And during the day she watched her son, who hadn’t yet started kindergarten.

Her options for public transportation were limited. A shuttle bus requires riders to reserve a pick-up at least an hour in advance and is only available weekdays from 3:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. And, Reid said, the shuttle bus doesn’t even serve her far end of the county.

‘I was sleeping five hours a night,’ Reid said. ‘Sometimes less.’

That was when, in November 2021, Reid found out about a program that could get her a working car she could afford. Cars for College, created by Lenoir Community College’s foundation in 2019, thanks to a $250,000 donation, assists working students in buying cars, regardless of their credit scores, to help them access education. The college’s foundation buys the cars (or receives donated vehicles), refurbishes them through the institution’s automotive program, and sells them to students at cost for an average of $3,080. They guarantee loans for students who can’t afford the price outright through a partnership with a local credit union.”

Read more on The Chronicle of Higher Education.