Educational Technology Tackles Scholarship Problems
The instigating role of tech in accelerating income and housing inequality has been a hot button topic for quite a while. Two companies are challenging that perception by making it easier for low-income students to access funds for higher education. Scholly and Raise.me are startups that believe in the capacity for tech to shrink the growing gap in achievement among students from low-income families and those from mid- to high-income families. Educational technology tools like these have the potential to make a positive impact in the economic diversity of university campuses and workplaces alike, a university-funding structure hostile to low-income students may potentially limit their efficacy.
Philadelphia-based Scholly connects high school, undergraduate, and graduate students to scholarships that are relevant to them in one simple and easy-to-use app. Founder Christopher Gray came from a low-income family himself and won over 1.3 million dollars in scholarships to fund his undergraduate studies. In doing so, he noted the inefficiencies in the process. Manually searching for scholarships is arduous, requiring extensive research into the depths of dozens of company websites. Organizing the results occupies valuable time and energy from students who have little of either to spare. Further, 100 million dollars worth of scholarships go unclaimed each year. Gray had plans to change that–he gave a presentation on ABC’s Shark Tank to make his idea a reality and secured $40,000 in capital.
Scholly connects students to eligible scholarships, but the results are usually announced and the money distributed late in the application process, inhibiting many low-income students from reserving seats at expensive universities that have accepted them. Conversely, Raise.me is a service that allows students to accrue scholarship money over their entire high school career based on academic achievements. Its founder, Preston Silverman is an alum of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which came in third on the New York Time’s list of the most economically diverse top colleges. He founded Raise.me to address the issue of funding timelines that disadvantages low-income students. Students can earn money not just for achieving good grades and participating in athletics, but also for working part time jobs and helping to take care of family members. Acknowledging the fulfilment of family obligations as valuable helps low-income students who find it difficult to afford time for community volunteering or unpaid internships.
Silverman discussed that while many scholarships target students from low-income families, middle-class families continue to struggle to put one or more students through 4-year college. He sees widespread adoption of his model as one way to address this gap. However, it is unclear whether allowing middle-class students freer access to merit-based scholarships will have an ameliorating impact on inequality or exacerbate the problem. Former New York City Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy notes that merit-based scholarships actually increase inequality by “taking scarce financial aid dollars from low-income students to give to students who don’t need it.” A Cooke Foundation report found that “Students from families in the bottom economic quartile comprise only three percent of enrollment in the most competitive schools, while those from the top economic quartile comprise 72 percent,” despite the fact that high-income students make up only a third of high-achieving high school graduates. This is partly due to colleges actively recruiting students from high income families and purposefully underfunding low-income students in order to pay for rising cost of operation.
Educational technology has the power to fill gaps in learning, help low-income students access resources, and even radically democratize education. However, deeply entrenched structural issues such as university funding and spending may prevent these technologies from reaching their full potential. Companies with a strong commitment to diversity may wish to focus a part of their recruitment resources on addressing this increasingly relevant problem and, by extension, support funding and policy measures that reflect the American promise of education for all.
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