High School Students Can Now Receive Scholarship Money in Exchange for Good Grades

A happy high school boy holding up a paper with an "A+" on it.

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Pay-for-As is not unfamiliar to many American students; it’s been a mid-level resort of parents hoping to inspire their kids as long as grades have been a measuring stick. But now there’s a company getting in on the scheme.

Raise.me is a startup, founded by Preston Silverman, that uses small tuition grants from colleges to incentivize good grades in high school students. Under certain conditions, students can earn up to $80,000 towards their own college education via the platform.

So far, 225 institutions have partnered with the website, and over 700,000 students have used it, nearly half of them either low-income or first-generation college-goers.

Students between 9th and 12th grade can use the site for free (its profit comes from the partner institutions). They can apply to earn micro-grants, sometimes referred to as scholarships, from as many schools as will have them, but will only actually receive their funds from whichever college they choose to attend in the end.

For instance, as a freshman, a student could join in the programs of schools A, B, and C, and their grades would earn them potential scholarships from each. But when they graduate high school, apply to A and B, and accept an offer at B, only the funds they earned from B will be applied to their tuition. The other funds will be absorbed back into the general pool for other students.

Each partner institution will have their own rubric for awarding funds. Some will award $1,000 for each A, some only $50. Some will include rewards for leadership positions in clubs, student government, and sports. Some have maximums on earnings via Raise.me, others do not.

With this site, a great deal of power is put into the hands of the student to make their schoolwork work for them. It’s still up to them to get into these schools, or they risk losing any of these scholarships, but having them available tilts the odds in their favor.

My Struggle With Finding a Job After College

A diagram with the words "job search" in the middle.

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Look, I get it. I’ve been there myself. I graduated from the University of Iowa with my Master’s in Library and Information Science. While that’s not your typical “basket-weaving degree,” I will say that I did struggle to find employment after college.

It took me a total of eight months to find a job once I graduated. Even then, my first job out of college wasn’t within my field. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was so desperate for employment that I took a job as a secretary for $15 an hour.

My meager wages combined with my lack of self-confidence spiraled me into a deep depression. I was poor, humiliated, and completely dissatisfied with how my life turned out. I couldn’t help but to think I wasted six years of my life on a degree that was essentially useless.

However, I’m here to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But I’m not going to sugar coat it: it takes a whole hell of a lot of effort to reach that light.

For me, I had to sacrifice one of the values I hold dearest to me: family. I grew up in a small town in Iowa. After college, I confined my job hunt to places within the surrounding area. I didn’t want to break away from my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. They mean the world to me.

But I knew that if I wanted to get the job of my dreams, I had to start searching in other areas. I eventually ended up taking a job in St. Louis. Again, it’s not how I originally envisioned my life, but I’m a lot happier now that I’m making more money and working within my chosen field.

My advice for you is this: get out of your comfort zone. What boundaries, values, or rules have you set for yourself that are holding you back? What are you afraid of losing if you let go of this particular belief? What do you stand to gain if you let go of it?

Phoenix Collegiate Academy: College for All

Graduates posing for a picture

Rachel Yanof’s Phoenix Collegiate Academy is taking to college students who never thought it was possible.
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Seven years ago, Rachel Yanof was a door-to-door recruiter. She walked the streets of south Phoenix neighborhoods in the Arizona heat–not to make a sale or pitch a pyramid scheme, but to look for students. She and her staff worked hard to connect with parents in those neighborhoods, where students were mostly poor and Hispanic.

What she had to offer was a new school. Yanof, the young administrator at a brand new charter school, pitched it as a rigorous environment with high standards and higher goals. Students would wear uniforms, sign contracts that they would complete their homework, take extra courses in math and writing, and read vigorously.

And they would go to college. That was Yanof’s promise to every sixth grader and each of their parents: every one of her students would go to college.

Now, seven years later, her promise has come true. Phoenix Collegiate Academy’s first class of seniors has just graduated, and each of them, all twenty-five, has applied to college and been accepted. Between them they’ve also received 50 scholarships at a total of over $200,000 and counting.

Twenty-three of the twenty-five will be the first person in their families to attend college.

In 2015, the rate of students going directly into college from high school was a little less than 60%, and it trends much lower in neighborhoods like those from which Yanof recruited. And in this digital age, more and more entry level jobs require a four-year degree. Yanof and her staff have worked hard–as hard as their students–and the success was visible on every face as those young men and women crossed the stage to get their diploma, each accompanied by a loved one, and each with the name of their future college on their lips.

Tips for Top Students

Young man taking notes at computer

If you’ve coasted through school so far, it’s time to learn how to take good notes.
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If there is one piece of advice that high-achieving high school students need to hear, it is to learn to study.

No, seriously.

In grade school, middle school, and high school, for a certain type of student it can be very easy to coast. You have a good memory, you test well, you’re able to stay on top of things even with high school’s crazy amount of required busy work. You take notes in class, but rarely need to look at them. And that’s the weak spot, right there.

In college, it’s easy to get in over your head quickly if you go on in the same manner. You spend less time in class, overall, but the work is harder and escalates quickly. So it’s vital, back in high school, to cultivate good study habits.

Keep taking notes, but pay more attention to how you do so. Experiment until you find a format and an organization that works well for you regardless of which class you’re in. Get in the habit of taking notes in every class discussion, whether it’s for a test or not.

Make those notes comprehensive. Every topic your teacher touches upon goes into your notes, every assignment they mention and everything they say about it. If they mention a supplemental source, you write it down. If they repeat something they’d said previously, go back and highlight your notes on the first time they covered it; it’s probably important.

Studying starts with your notes. At home, in your study space and ready to work, start by copying your classroom notes, focusing this time on the subject you’re studying for. Copy them out onto clean paper or a new file. This reinforces your memory of the details. Follow up those supplemental sources. If the teacher mentioned anything you didn’t understand, do a bit of research yourself, noting your source, and take notes on what you find.

With high school’s focus on test scores, they are notoriously poor at teaching studying itself. It’s not difficult, but it takes initiative.

Indiana University’s eTexts

Indiana University campus

Indiana University is fighting high textbook costs with etexts.
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Textbooks are one of the most frustrating expenses to students. A math textbook that can only be used for a semester, three at most, can run as high as $300 or more. College bookstores flaunt bright posters advertising their buy-back programs, but it only takes one semester to learn that those are a false promise. By the time you can see back that math book, the new edition’s already come out and your $300 book will net you $16 in store credit.

The average university student with a full course-load spends over $1000 a year on textbooks. The reasons for the high tickets are many, but the key points are these: Professors assign specific editions for their convenience, which means students have no ability to vote with their dollar. There are only five major textbook publishers, which means they have no incentive to price themselves competitively.

Textbooks are 81% more expensive now than they were a generation ago. Students have spoken out about having to choose between vital texts and their meal plans. And now, some schools are stepping up to help students fight back.

Indiana University, in 2012, began making electronic textbooks, eTexts, available to students who opt in. For about $35 a book, they can access their text from any internet-connected device. They can take notes, get access to their teacher’s notes on the texts, and share their reading with others. With 21 smaller publishers providing material directly to the school, rather than via a distributor, costs are kept low.

At the beginning of this school year, approximately 25% of the school, or 25,000 students, had opted in to eTexts. The number has swollen every semester since the program’s inception. Teachers like it because it means the entire class can afford the latest edition of the assigned reading, so everyone can be literally on the same page. And students, of course, appreciate the lower cost and not having to lug heavy books across campus for every class.

While there are and always will be those who appreciate the “dead tree” kind of text book, the mere fact that there are options now should start to force an improvement in quality across all formats.

College Cross-Talk

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Here are some important things to keep in mind when discussing college costs.
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There’s an oddly disconnected conversation happening right now in discussion about college prices. On the one side, there’s a massive amount of data showing how low- and middle-income families are slamming up against the rapidly rising cost of college. On the other are arguments that the true cash-in-hand price of college is low or free for the lowest-income students due to grants, loans, and scholarships.

There is no middle ground to these two arguments because they are not taking place in the same dialogue. Those who claim college is affordable are only talking about tuition and fees and what you pay up front. Those on the other side are referring to an entire spectrum of cost that includes years of housing, transportation, loss of income due to not being able to work as much while you study, and the inevitable interest and extra costs of loans.

This isn’t just a philosophical disconnect. The misunderstandings between the two points of view are visible in everything from college advertising to national policy. Here are points that everyone involved in this discussion absolutely needs to remember.

  • The price of college far exceeds tuition. Think double, if you include room and board, transportation, books, and supplies. Double that again to include lost wages for the many who are unable to both study and work full-time.
  • College price–what it costs a student to be a student–goes up. College cost–what it costs the school to provide that education–rises much more slowly. Tuition is not rising because it’s more expensive to teach now than it was ten years ago. It’s rising because the public and the government are less willing to chip in.
  • College students are not children. It’s not a bunch of teenagers studying on Daddy’s dime that we’re talking about. About 40% of college students are older than 25. In community colleges and vocational schools, it’s over 50%. Students are supporting themselves more than ever, even while rising prices are making that increasingly impossible.
  • Loans increase the total price of education, not decrease it. While loans may make it possible for a low-income student to attend college and improve their job chances, accepting those loans may make it impossible for that student to own a home, begin a family, or find financial security for years or even decades. They are in-the-moment help, not true aid.

There’s a lot of talk nationwide about the crisis of college tuition and student loans. It’s important that we all use a common language in this conversation to shine a light through the misunderstandings to the truths of the matter.

Debt Factories

Nametag that mentions student loan amount

A new study found that most of student debt is tied up in graduate school and for-profit college fees.
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It’s not news to anyone that student debt is a huge and growing problem. More money is tied into student debt than credit cards or mortgages, a national burden second only to medical debt. And a massive share of it, nearly half, is shackled to the ankles of graduate students.

What might be news is that the blame for a shocking amount of that debt can be laid at the feet of only twenty universities. Just a score of mostly for-profit and private universities account for $6.5 billion in government student loans annually, a full fifth of the national total.

The worst offender, according to a study by the Center for American Progress, is Walden University, a for-profit school (Sylvan Learning System owns a controlling interest) that focuses on graduate degrees in health, education, and business. It boasts a student body of more than 50,000 students both on campus and online, and they have, among them, racked up more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in federal debt.

And that is in a single school year. Slim comfort to those indebted students that Walden’s financial details are quite public – it has to sting to know that more than a quarter of that price-tag is funneled directly into marketing for the school. Baiting the trap for more borrower-students.

The ubiquitous University of Phoenix takes slot number three on the list, with its 250,000 students borrowing nearly half a billion. Medical and law schools are not as highly represented as one might think, though three US-owned medical schools in the Caribbean make the list. Most degree seekers at the worst offenders are working on degrees in fine arts, journalism, or government. Those fond of conspiracies might make something of that, though exactly what, who knows?

All of the above is ample proof, as if anyone needed that, of why it’s important to Google your school of choice and the word “debt” before making a final decision.