About 10 months ago, he was a broke
After moving to the
But when those dollars began to dry up, putting him in danger of missing his sophomore year, Wagner, 20, stayed true to his generation. He turned to social media. He put his education in the hands of online donors and asked for the money on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.
"It blew up," Wagner said. "I couldn't believe it. I was at work and (new donations) kept popping up on my phone."
In all, Wagner reached his
As of last week, Wagner had doubled his crowdfunding request and raised
As Wagner's story shows, crowdfunding has progressed beyond entrepreneurs looking to start businesses and artists looking to fund creative projects.
While industry watchers haven't yet devised a way to calculate how many students are turning to crowdfunding to pay tuition, or how much money they've raised, experts agree that the practice is on the rise.
GoFundMe, the site Wagner used, reports that the number of education-based donations have risen to 153,388 this year, compared to 212 when the company started in 2010. The company also reports that total donation amounts have risen to
GoFundMe charges all donors 5 percent and payment processing fees.
Besides traditional crowdfunding platforms, other websites also have begun reaching out to students, including sites such as Pave, where students who crowdfund agree to pay portions of their future earnings to donors.
Other sites, such as GradSave and GiveCollege.com, are set up as online savings accounts where extended family can contribute to a child's future college costs, sometimes taking advantage of tax benefits reserved for donations.
"Over the past several decades, we've seen tuition increase four-and-a-half times as much as inflation, two times as much as health care costs," Voight said. "And it's important to note that income is not keeping up. In fact, it's declining among people with lower incomes."
While tuition has been increasing nationwide, states and the federal government have scaled back the amount of financial aid they are making available.
A common belief in higher education circles is that when 60 percent of a student's financial need is taken care of, that student has a much higher probability of graduating.
But in-state tuition at
Meanwhile, the federal Pell Grant program for needy students has decreased in value. The grants used to cover 75 percent of a student's financial need, but are now sufficient for only about a third of costs.
Voight said states that are serious about economic growth need to extend opportunities to make college accessible to moderate- and low-income students, and not just the students who are already likely to go to college and get a degree.
"There really is a core public purpose to investing in higher education," she said.
In the meantime, it's conceivable that students will use whatever means available to gain access to college, regardless of government policy.
After struggling to get qualified for a loan, Hammersmith posted her story on GoFundMe and raised
Crowdfunding "really was my last resort," Hammersmith said. "I told myself that I might as well go for it. It was just one of those things where you just have to put your pride aside."
(c)2014 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services