Friday, January 17, 2020
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Start-up nudges students toward scholarships

Many high school students don’t even start thinking about how they’ll pay for college until the end of the senior year, when it’s often too late. Enter a young start-up in San Francisco and the idea of micro-scholarships, which students can start working toward as soon as they enter high school, even if they don’t know which college they’ll want to attend. was founded as Raise Labs in 2012 by Preston Silverman, George Kirkland, and Dave Schuman. Student loan debt was about $1.16 trillion a year ago, but this organization, with backing from Facebook, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and other venture capitalists, has found that it’s possible to give students the opportunity to work for that money, rather than taking a chance on applying for it.

“Our end goal is to create more and equal access to education,” Mr Silverman as said about his organization. “A lot of students and families are intimidated with the tuition prices of colleges and universities and do not understand how to access scholarship funding.”

The basic idea is known as “nudging.” By rewarding students for good behavior—like $120 for an “A” in a high school algebra class or $15 for each hour of community service—the micro-scholarships add up. By the time students in the system graduate from high school, they could have amassed quite a big scholarship at one of about 130 member colleges and universities.

The average amount for the Class of 2015 was $19,000 for four years, according to Mr Silverman, who talked to WBUR (NPR affiliate) in November. That could make college affordable, especially for students from low-income families or those who have difficulty finding resources to pay for college because their parents didn’t attend college.

The current list of colleges and universities includes DePaul University in Chicago, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The Big 10 schools on the system include, at least, Penn State and Michigan State, although a comprehensive list is elusive, as it is constantly in a state of flux. The University of Iowa is expected to join in the near future.

Students who don’t know which college they will attend can sign up for free online. ( makes money by charging its university partners. In return for a small fee, manages the micro-scholarship program for each university.)

Students check the system and determine how well their current activity is meeting their college expense goals. The New York Times reported that Penn State added $250 to one girl’s scholarship amount just for visiting one of the university’s campuses.

The Times quoted a Penn State officials as saying the idea helps to encourage students to make better decisions about preparing for college while they’re still in high school. That is, rewarding students for enrolling in college-preparatory classes—they’ll get about $400 for each AP course they take—is like “nudging” them toward two college-related goals: applying successfully and meeting expenses.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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