Student loan debt in the United States exceeds $1.3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
College is expensive and scholarships can be hard to come by, so a start-up company is working to make higher education more affordable.
Raise.me is a website where students can earn micro-scholarships starting in ninth grade. The company wants to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with figuring out how to pay for college.
“It's literally a ticker the student can see going up,” said University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) assistant vice provost Dale Bittinger.
UMBC is one of the more than 200 institutions participating in the program. Students create a profile on Raise.me, subscribe to colleges they're interested in, then earn money toward those specific schools for different achievements like courses, test scores, grades, and activities.
“They can gain awards anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 to upwards of $12,000-$15,000 per year on their studies,” Bittinger said.
Through micro-scholarships, students can earn as little as $20 for a community service activity or $5,000 for attending a college event.
“If you get a good grade, you can earn $750 for each A in Science courses,” said North County High School senior Bianca Cea.
Cea is what's known as a Raise.me power user. She earned more than $34,000 from Loyola University Maryland and nearly $22,000 to attend Houghton College.
“It makes me feel really happy because I know that my parents own a business, so I don't want them to be burdened with paying for college,” said Cea.
And it was the financial incentive that ultimately swayed Cea to choose Loyola University Maryland.
“Once I got this $8,000 a year, it really helped motivate me to go to Loyola,” Cea said.
The site will also help her stay motivated in school. She'll need to keep up a 3.0 GPA to keep her scholarships.
Bittinger calls the concept a win-win for students and universities.
“It's a great way for students to become aware of UMBC, and it's a great way for us to reach out and engage them in the college selection process,” Bittinger said.
And with over 11,000 applicants to UMBC each year and just 1,600 openings, Raise.me can help give students a competitive edge.
“Generally, students who do well on Raise.me will be very competitive for admissions here,” Bittinger said.
The average total award given to students on Raise.me is $20,000. Fourty-five percent of Raise.me student users are first generation college-goers.