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Since announcing one week ago its exclusive involvement among Iowa public universities in a social media-style scholarship tool for high school students across the state, the University of Iowa has amassed 2,415 student followers.
Those among that total who are eligible to earn 'micro-scholarships” from UI through the relatively new Raise.me platform already have accrued a combined $294,536 in potential UI tuition aid.
Because each participating university can craft its own scholarship offerings through the web-based platform, UI chose to provide Raise.me scholarships just for students in the school districts in each of Iowa's 99 counties with the highest rate of students eligible for free and reduced lunch.
Raise.me offers information on more than 1,000 institutions, not just those schools that offer scholarships. And 678 of the 2,415 UI followers to date live outside the state, meaning they are not eligible for UI aid through Raise.me but still might be interested in attending the university.
Many of the 1,737 UI followers who are from Iowa could be eligible for the micro-scholarships - although not all, as some might not be in those districts with the highest free- and reduced-lunch rates.
According to the UI's Raise.me program, each eligible student can earn up to $1,200 toward UI tuition, which officials said will come in addition to other scholarships and financial aid they might be able to receive. Students accumulate micro-scholarships by signing up on the website and logging accomplishments - like getting good grades in specific classes, participating in extracurricular activities, and volunteering.
Each participating university can choose how much money to offer and for what - helping students prepare for success at those specific institutions. At UI, for example, students could earn $75 for perfect attendance, $100 for taking four years of the same foreign language, or $25 for participating in extracurricular activities.
More than 100 other private and public institutions across the country - including five private schools in Iowa - also are offering scholarships through Raise.me, although each school has varying requirements and award totals.
The UI aid is meant to be evenly distributed over four years of undergraduate education, and students lose the money if they don't go to one of the participating schools.
UI officials said the tool aims to benefit everyone who signs up by better preparing them for the rigors of college, whether they end up using the money or not. Still, several students told The Gazette last week that the risk of losing money they've accrued during their high school years might sway them to pick one of the participating schools.
UI is the only public university in Iowa offering scholarships through Raise.me, and it will stay that way for this first year - according to an exclusive UI contract with the company. But Raise.me officials said they hope to continue adding to their participating school list both in Iowa and across the country.
'Our goal is to create a lot of options for students, and so we do want to expand the program,” Preston Silverman, CEO and co-founder of Raise.me, told The Gazette on Wednesday.
About 250,000 students nationally have Raise.me accounts to date - including about 3,000 students across Iowa, according to company officials.
Silverman said the company's mission stems from a desire to expand access to higher education - especially for low-income and first-generation students. The thought, according to Silverman, was that colleges right now award scholarships to students at the end of their high school careers - after they've already done well or not.
'For most students, that money is awarded too late to impact their college decisions,” he said. 'But what if instead of waiting until the end of high school, we award it throughout high school.”
That increase in awareness of the academic and extracurricular choices they're making could empower students to 'understand the things they can be doing throughout high school to become better prepared throughout college,” Silverman said.
Some skeptics have questioned the concept and motives of Raise.me, which is getting $5,000 a year from UI plus $10 per student who submits a micro-scholarship to the institution. But Silverman said those costs are minimal and allow Raise.me to maintain a secure and supported operation.
'We are focused on building a sustainable and scalable platform,” he said.