High school graduation rates were up in Kentucky last year, but fewer students went straight on to college.
More of those who did head to school are splitting time between hitting the books, and clocking in at work.
Keisha Smith says working 40 hours a week in the summer and 15 hours each full-time semester is the only way to keep debt at bay.
“There are times that it's really hard, and I feel overworked, and just way too much stress,” Johnson said.
Working at least 10 hours per semester is a requirement at Alice Lloyd College, but Smith and Jeremy Sparkman, who takes care of the school's computer needs, both say they'd choose to work anyway.
Sparkman says it's given him an advantage over many of his high school friends.
“They were like 'oh that's a work study college, you've got to work!' and all this stuff and now I'm finding them doing the optional work study at their school or 'you know I wish I had that at my school so I could pay off some of these debts,” Sparkman said.
Department of Education data shows while more students graduated from high school last year than the year before, more also took on work and college at once, or chose work over higher education.
But college isn't getting any cheaper and Smith and Sparkman say they can't afford to put it off.
“It's a relief to me because I definitely don't want to start, you know, with 20 thousand dollars of debt and have to work, you know, five years to pay off my student loans,” Smith said.
So far neither one has taken out a loan.