Students Earned $1 Billion in College Scholarships Using Their Smartphones

A new app is trying to incentivize college affordability by providing students instant micro-scholarships.

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Nov 16 2017, 7:00pm

Illustration by Aaron Barksdale

For most students, college scholarships are something they cross their fingers for at the very end of high school. But through a technology platform called RaiseMe, students can start translating their achievements into college tuition as early as ninth grade. By going online or downloading the mobile app, students ‘follow’ institutions like they would on social media, and plug in their personal qualifications to earn micro-scholarships for everything from getting good grades to taking college campus tours.

The platform’s format creates an element of instant gratification to incentivize students to get on board. By entering information on achievements ranging from community service hours to strong SAT scores, the platform immediately calculates how much a student would earn at a college they are interested in.

“It’s meant to show students that the incremental choices they make as they progress through high school can make a huge difference when it comes to college readiness."

The scholarships don’t look like much in small doses; the University of Iowa awards $1,200 to students who have a job while in school and Northeastern offers $750 for each leadership role in a sport. But the wide array of qualifiers add up to an average total of $22,500 awarded to students through the platform after applying and committing to a school.

The RaiseMe interface where people can "follow" universities. (Photo via RaiseMe)

“Our structure is meant to provide students with a roadmap for achievements that colleges value in their student body,” RaiseMe’s CEO and Founder Preston Silverman told VICE Impact. “It’s also meant to show students that the incremental choices they make as they progress through high school can make a huge difference when it comes to college readiness."

“We're doing our part to join the broader movement to encourage FAFSA completion."

So far, 265 American colleges and universities have signed on to partner with the startup to reach potential students and connect to those who might not know they qualify. The list ranges from highly competitive private schools like Carnegie Mellon and Notre Dame to public institutions like Arizona State and Texas Tech. The platform is free for students, as partner universities pay an annual fee to participate.

“RaiseMe offers colleges the opportunity to build a more diverse applicant pool, as well as to incentivize the types of behaviors that they’ve seen lead to students being more successful in college. ” Silverman said.


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Recognizing that American that students missed out on $2.3 billion of unused financial aid this year, RaiseMe also recently added a $200 micro-scholarship for filling out the federal aid FAFSA application.

"We know that students who fill out the FAFSA have an 85 percent chance of receiving some sort of aid,” Silverman added. “We're doing our part to join the broader movement to encourage FAFSA completion, and to help more students see the FAFSA as a resource, not a roadblock, to college affordability.”

Views of the app showing amounts you can earn through different schools. (Photo via RaiseMe)

The app’s efforts in filling the gaps left by the traditional approach to high school scholarship distribution is reflected in the demographics that use the app; 45 percent of students who use the app are first generation college-goers, and 40 percent come from low income backgrounds.

This year, RaiseMe started the Appalachia Access Initiative, a program to expand opportunities to high school students in the region, many of whom come from low-income families or would be the first in their family to attend college. Among the institutions that are benefitting from the new initiative is West Virginia University, known for its top notch forensics program.

Stephen Lee has worked in higher education enrollment services for 27 years. Now the Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at the West Virginia University, he’s seen the impact of the decline of the coal mining industry ripple through the economy and into the lives of prospective students. In 2016, a little over half of high school students students in West Virginia went on to college, a state that research shows is one of the least educated in the U.S.

“Half of this year’s freshman class is from out of state and they are facing higher costs, but in-state students are facing, in many cases, economic distress that has happened as a result of the coal industry going into decline,” Lee told VICE Impact.

“In my business it’s frustrating when you talk to a [high school] senior who is interested in your institution and they don’t have the right courses, or high enough grades. They haven’t done their homework in terms of financial planning,” Lee added, “I think RaiseMe is a wonderful way to build awareness earlier in the process. Right now that is a bit of a missing link and it compliments the work that school counselors and parents are doing.”

College administrators aren’t the only ones using the app to their advantage. High school teachers use RaiseMe to keep their students in the conversation for how to ensure college is an option.

Adam Snider, a high school teacher in Parkersburg, West Virginia uses class time set his students up with accounts and track how their performance translates into financial aid. “It becomes a conversation you can use as a teacher, if a student lost money in their account because of bad grades, it’s my opportunity to say, ‘Well here is your chance to do better.’” Snider told VICE Impact. “Sometimes they don’t have academic motivators at home, and this helps them do that for themselves.”

Launched partially with support by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook, RaiseMe has awarded over $1 billion of college scholarships to students since its launch in 2013. You can check out the full list of college available on RaiseMe as well.

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