For the 2015-2016 school year, the average annual cost of a four-year private college in the U.S. is $43,921. It is $19,548 for in-state and $34,031 for out-of-state attendance at a public college (College Board.org). Higher education is expensive and only getting more so. Over the last decade, the historical rate of average annual increase is approximately 5 percent.
Moreover, the current ﬁnancial aid landscape is broken, particularly for the students who need it most. Most scholarships, grants and aid packages today are awarded at the very end of high school, really too late to influence students’ college search, ambitions and application process. As a result, many talented students check out early in high school or don’t apply to selective colleges despite the aid that might be available to them.
For example, a 2008 study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago found that only one-third of Chicago public high school graduates who aspired to complete a four-year college degree enrolled in an institution that lined up with their academic qualifications. This problem of “undermatching” in higher education has gained increased awareness in recent years from academics, news media and even the White House.
SJF portfolio company RaiseMe has set out to alleviate the problem of unequal access to higher education by “reinventing educational pathways and changing the way students access billions of dollars each year in scholarships and grants for college.”
RaiseMe empowers students to earn “micro-scholarships” throughout high school for their individual achievements—everything from getting an A in Biology to making the JV basketball team or being elected Vice-President of the Glee Club—and students can start as early as 9th grade. The platform creates a more transparent and motivational process while enabling the students to see the guaranteed minimum amount of aid they’ll receive from an institution long before they apply.
For instance, Channel 1 News highlighted the personal experience of high school junior Nahid Martin and her mother entering Martin’s recent “A” in Algebra II and immediately seeing $1,000 more in a micro-scholarship funding offered to her as a result.
Nearly sixty percent of the 200,000 students who have signed up for RaiseMe are from low-income high schools.
“We’re a social enterprise company, so we’re very focused on servicing students from lower income backgrounds and first generation students,” RaiseMe CEO Preston Silverman told Business Insider in 2016. “Colleges can determine who they want to earn scholarships, and many partners will say only students at low-income schools. Some make it available to everyone.”
To date over 100 institutions across the country have partnered with Raise to provide millions of dollars in grant aid to help students achieve their college goals.