Putting Education Reform To The Test

How The Internet Is Helping Florida Students Pay For Their Education

Ashley Jean has enrolled in a global studies program at Long Island University. Now she's trying to raise money to help pay for travel costs.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Ashley Jean has enrolled in a global studies program at Long Island University. Now she's trying to raise money to help pay for travel costs.

Ashley Jean is graduating from Miami’s iPrep Academy this week. And then she’s planning to travel the world.

Jean will start a global studies program through Long Island University that will eventually take her to places like Costa Rica, Australia, Bali and Spain.

That’s a lot of plane tickets.

“I don’t want money to be a reason why I can’t change my life,” Jean says, “so I have to work hard to do what I can to get this program.”

Like a growing number of college students, Jean is turning to crowdfunding sites to help her raise money for college. The sites let users search by location or topic and donate directly to causes they like.

Jean is using a gofundme page to help her raise money for school. She’s set a goal of $2,200 to pay for tickets, visas, health insurance and other expenses of studying abroad.

It’s just a fraction of the total cost of the program – but every bit helps. She says gofundme lets her make the pitch her way.

“I put orange because that’s my favorite color,” she says of her page. “Usually the photo or video it usually enhances — they require you to have a photo because it makes it [easier] for you to get more money and stuff.”

You might have heard of crowdfunding after people donated more than $800,000 to a controversial Indiana pizzeria at the center of the state’s same-sex marriage debate.

But crowdfunding also lets the warm and fuzzy side of the Internet shine.

Shippensburg, Penn., residents raised more than $5,000 to send a handicapped Steelers superfan to a game after he was assaulted for wearing team gear.

Indiegogo Life offers a few tips for people looking to raise money: tell your story; who you’re helping, whether that’s yourself, someone you love – or even a stranger; how much you want to raise; and where the money is going.

As states cut support for higher education during the Great Recession, many colleges increased tuition. Now crowdfunding allows students to pass along rising tuition and other costs to strangers.

Ashley Jean traveled to Nicaragua and Cuba last year. It's why she wanted to enroll in a global studies program.

Courtesy of Ashley Jean

Ashley Jean traveled to Nicaragua and Cuba last year. It's why she wanted to enroll in a global studies program.

More than half of Florida’s college students graduated with debt in 2013, according to data gathered by The Institute for College Access and Success. And those student loans were equal to the cost of a nice car — an average of $24,000 per student.
Students like Jean have used crowdfunding to raise more than $26 million so far. And that’s just on gofundme. Other sites include Indiegogo Life, Pigit, Zerobound and others.

Jean says she’s thinking a lot about how much debt she’ll have when she graduates — $75,000 to $80,000.

“It’s a lot of money, but I feel like with the career path that I’m trying to take, I’ll be able to, like, pay it off,” she says.

It starts with her study abroad program. Every little bit she can raise through crowdfunding helps.

Last year, Jean raised money to travel to Nicaragua and Cuba through her network of friends. She says crowdfunding sites make it easier to target both friends on Facebook and total strangers.

“I told somebody and their mom donated,” she says. “And then there was another person who donated – I don’t know who they are, but they donated.

“I feel like this is generally a safer way to do it, because the thing with, like, physical money, is, like, there’s a lot of criticism. Where’s that going? You’re just taking my money.”

Orlando resident Duresny Nemorin has already graduated from Florida A & M University, but she’s running into a catch-22 many new grads face.

“Either they want you to work for free,” she says, “or they say you don’t have enough experience. It is discouraging… you do want to walk away, but I refuse to.”

She says she’s a typical millennial – she’s concerned about the environment and sustainable living. Last year she interned in Manaus, Brazil, at the World Cup and studied environmental issues.

Nemorin hasn’t been able to find a job in advertising. But she did land an internship working with big-name companies like Pepsi in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City.

“It’s a great opportunity. They are providing me housing and travel, but then that’s when it stops,” she says with a laugh. “I’m not raising much money, but I do understand the cost of living in other places are higher, so I just need enough money to deal with living in Dallas, being in L.A., being in New York, which are, you know, pretty expensive places.”

She’s saved several hundred dollars to pay for food, sightseeing and other living expenses.  She’s hoping to raise the rest — $600 — on gofundme.

She’s tried more traditional fundraising in the past. This is her first time using a crowdfunding website.

“I normally do sponsorship letters that I send out to their parents and they send out to their co-workers,” she says, “because there is a generation that still doesn’t feel comfortable going online donating, or they just don’t know how to use it.”

Nemorin graduated A & M with about $24,000 in debt. Those loan payments are now due.

Like Jean, she hopes crowdfunding will help her get the experience she needs to land the job that will pay off her school loans.


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