People have turned to crowdfunding sites to raise money for all kinds of projects, from the latest tech gadget to recovery efforts after a tragedy.
According to GoFundMe, the number of education-focused campaigns on their site has risen dramatically in recent years.
The number of GoFundMe campaigns specifically mentioning “tuition” has risen 4,547% from 2011 to 2014.
In 2013, there were 41,683 GoFundMe campaigns that raised a total of $4.63 million towards educational costs. So far in 2014, 106,793 educational GoFundMe campaigns have been created, raising a total of $13.14 million.
And with student debt rising — 70% of students who graduated in 2014 left college in debt, with a total of more than $US1 trillion owed in loans — it’s clear why crowdfunding has become a popular alternative.
Cassie Wessely, a 19-year-old student from Grayslake, Illinois, was just three weeks away from starting school at Vanderbilt University when her mother took her own life. After finishing her freshman year, Wessely learned that Vanderbilt would no longer provide her financial aid, as her father now had residential custody over her.
“After the emotional ordeal I had been [through], the idea of starting over at a new school and losing the place and relationships I had found at Vanderbilt just seemed like too much,” Wessely told Business Insider. “The idea of asking people for money, especially in a time when so many people need money themselves, was extremely daunting to me.”
So she turned to the Internet for help, creating a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to cover the remaining $US24,000 she needed for her sophomore year’s tuition.
To her surprise, her GoFundMe page absolutely exploded, raising more than $US40,000 in just five days. Two months later, Wessely has raised a total of $US50,220 from 1,126 internet donors, some of whom Wessely knows, and some who were strangers inspired by her story.
“It seemed like I knew a lot of them. But then it also seemed like there were so many strangers who were donating, too,” Wessely said. “Especially from the Vanderbilt community, as well as people who had been touched by suicide in their lives before. It was an extremely amazing thing to witness these people I had never met wanting to help me out.”
Wessely’s GoFundMe page has now raised enough money to cover tuition for this year and the next, meaning that she’ll be able to continue to pursue her degree in biomedical engineering.
Wessely isn’t the first college student to use GoFundMe to cover tuition costs. The site has an entire category dedicated to education-related projects, many of which have raised hundreds and even thousands of dollars.
Kiana Neisig, an 18-year-old from Portland, Oregon, just started her freshman year at George Fox University. But she may not have made it there were it not for the GoFundMe page her friend, Araceli Martinez, had made for her.
“When I went to go accept my financial aid package and saw that there was still $US8,000 of unmet need remaining, I felt everything I worked for slip from my fingertips,” Neisig told Business Insider. “I began to imagine what the next year would be like if I had to stay at home and continue working at Dairy Queen in hopes to save enough money to attend community college. I was frightened, embarrassed, and angry.”
Martinez and Neisig were close friends who had met through church. When Neisig found out she wouldn’t be able to afford college, she immediately turned to Martinez for advice. The next day, Neisig logged onto Facebook to see a link with the title “Help Kiana go to college!!!!”
“It was a whole page set up for donors to invest in my college tuition,” Neisig said. “I was shocked.”
Within three days, they had raised $US750 towards Neisig’s tuition costs. Three weeks later, they had $US1,350. A lot of the money came from family and friends, but Neisig says that more than half of the donors were anonymous, including one who gave $US500.
“Regardless [of whether] I know the people or if they’re strangers, I feel so blessed by the generosity of people who heard my story,” she said.
Though the GoFundMe campaign helped a great deal, Neisig will still get a part-time job to cover remaining costs. She plans to major in athletic training and hopes to become a physical therapist someday.