Funding a university degree can be an education in itself.
Where do people turn when scholarships and grants aren’t available or don’t cover all the cost?
How about asking total strangers to help pay for your education?
It might sound like a strange idea but crowdfunding is becoming increasingly popular, and euronews met one student who thought it might help finance her education.
In the French city of Strasburg, Olga Turcan has become something of a local star. She is a student, and she is writing a book and she is run out of funding to complete her studies, but that is not what has attracted all the attention. It is the solution she chose for finding the extra 4,000 euros she needed.
Olga explains: “At the beginning of 2013, I had to stop doing all my little part-time jobs in order to concentrate on completing my thesis, because writing it demands a lot of concentration and very intense work, far more so than in the early stages of preparing it. And that was when I had to find a financial solution.”
All her requests for grants were turned down, so a friend – Dominique Verreman – suggested crowdfunding. She explained why: “I researched all the projects on various platforms, and there were all sorts of different subjects and projects, so I thought why not give it a try? We could have a go, we’ve got nothing to lose and it’s an idea which might be interesting for the whole team, for everyone taking part in it. So we had a go.”
To appeal for funds, Olga and her friends built an eye-catching website and made a humorous video. Investors were bowled over.
One of them, François-Paul Debionne, was very impressed with the look: “What nerve! What a smile! There was such energy bursting out of the video, that I was already convinced, then I started attracting other people, getting them to take a closer look at what it was all about.”
In the end, Olga raised around 5,000 euros, well over her target sum. She also received hundreds of messages of support. So now she can finish her thesis with no worries about money: “Of course I didn’t expect it to work so well, but I had such a lot of support and generosity for the project, from my friends and my family… and when I saw that the contributions were often anonymous, and often quite small sums, I was really touched.”
A promise is a promise – so in return, Olga will soon be able to send a copy of her thesis to the people who funded its completion.
Spain: Erasmus on a budget
The Erasmus programme has become a mainstay of a university education in Europe, but the economic crisis has left some governments eager to make budget cuts.
Ariel Barile is studying art history in Madrid, and would have loved to spend a year studying abroad, but being the eldest of five brothers, it simply was not financially possible.
He explains: “I requested a grant to go to Lisbon, which was a pretty economic and feasible destination but in the end I couldn’t go because I was only awarded 170 euros per month, and although I would have had to go in September, I wouldn’t have received any money until March. So this meant that, from September to March, I would have had to cover all my expenses myself.”
To balance their books, some Spanish regions, including Madrid, have slashed their budgets, and now only give grants for half the academic year.
Amaya Mendikoetxea Pelayo, of the Autonomous University of Madrid, told euronews: “A central pillar of the Bologna Process is student mobility. And Spain has been a leading country in terms of mobility, both incoming and outgoing. However, we are very concerned that, in recent years, this mobility has decreased significantly, especially outgoing mobility. In this university, which had one of the highest mobility rates in the country, the reduction has been in the region of 20 percent over the past two years.”
Emilio García Prieto was on the educational committee which approved the Erasmus programme in 1987. He thinks that Spanish students are losing much more than an experience of studying abroad: “It’s a lot easier to look for a job if you have been on an Erasmus year. Why? Well, because it has given you a range of qualities, capabilities, and skills that help you find that job. What less could we do for our young people than try to give them that advantage?”
Spain was one of the countries closest to achieving 20 percent of undergraduates studying abroad by 2020, and is the EU country which sends the most Erasmus students abroad, as well the one which welcomes the most Erasmus students. But the new rules will make joining the Erasmus programme much more difficult.
The government’s budget for student grants to Erasmus students has shrunk by 71 percent since 2011.
Texas: A helping hand
Millions of families in the United States start saving for their childrens’ education from the day they are born. On top of that the US Department of Education awards around $150 billion a year to help millions of students.
Applications are made by submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Around 77 percent of students starting college or university in 2013 filed this form.
Gilbert Zavala, of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said: “The vast majority of jobs in our region require education beyond high school and 86 percent of our unemployed people have less than an associate degree, so this process to help them afford college is really enhancing their educational opportunities but also their economic opportunities for the region as a whole.”
However nearly one million American students who could qualify for educational grants never submit the form and so never receive their grants. Instead, they ask for student loans, averaging around $30,000 per student.
Student Asia Walker commented: “I believe it can be a burden for the middle and lower income classes to pay for college and that’s the point of having financial aid – because when you apply for it and your family doesn’t make much money, that’s why you pay less to go.”
State funded Community Colleges have become a good quality, low cost alternative to privately funded colleges and universities for many students. These higher education institutions are around 75 percent cheaper than the average American university, charging up to $65,000 a year.
Román Serrano, of North Lake College, told us: “We give the students a second chance, so let’s say that maybe they don’t come from a background or a family that has economic success, the majority of them usually wait and work. Once they save enough then they start going to school and then there are some that can qualify for financial aid.”
Joseline Colato arrived from El Salvador almost three years ago and after learning English, applied for a grant. Now she is studying Digital Forensics at North Lake College for free: “If I didn’t have a grant I don’t think I would be able to go to school or university, because I only have my mom and she has to pay the rent, lighting, gas, food and groceries, and she can’t pay for my education as well. It’s too expensive.”
Despite federal grants and soft loans, paying for an education is still a burden for millions of American families. Since 1985, the cost of higher education in the US has increased by 538 percent.