I have written before about how $20 can change a student’s life.
The $20 is slightly euphemistic but not entirely so.
We talk a lot about big money in higher education but I know for a fact that it’s small money that can derail one’s educational ambitions.
I was a student in a doctoral preparation program. I was an older “non-traditional” student. I was independent. I didn’t have children but neither was I still someone’s child. To take advantage of this highly competitive program, I had to submit a $100 reservation fee.
I didn’t have it.
I was $24 short.
A dean at my dear ol’ HBCU lent me the $25 dollars and the mostly black faculty at that program (UNC’s MURAP) allowed me two extra days to submit it.
I borrowed $30 ($25 from Dean Bryant, $5 from a friend) and spent $6 on the gas it took to drive the $100 money order to Chapel Hill from Durham, NC.
In my day, I have seen young women choose to drop a class because her boyfriend needs to use her car. The boyfriends almost always suck but they also give her $20 when she needs it most. This kind of resource navigation can lead to dysfunctional relationships but it can also be an important safety net for vulnerable women. If you delay your academic progress to keep the quasi-bad boyfriend because he might one day be the only one willing to give you $20 when you need it most, you’re making a very rational educational choice.
This becomes especially salient in for-profit higher education where the typical student is a woman, the likely student is a minority women, and where the bureaucratic process of enrolling minimizes the small dollar amounts. For-profit colleges don’t have deposits or reservations fees like community colleges or not-for-profit four-year colleges, for example. They may cost more in the long run, but it’s the immediate $20 that’s the most valuable when you are economically vulnerable.
I talk about a lot of this in my forthcoming Lower Ed where I also liberally cite Sara Goldrick-Rab’s research on economic precarity, financial aid, and higher education access.
Sara is taking the moment of her much-anticipated book, Paying the Price to launch a non-profit, The Fast Fund. Fast Fund understands the power of $20 to save a students’ higher education dream.
Each year, the Board of Directors of Believe in Students will select up to five faculty at high schools and colleges around the nation who work with students like those in “Paying the Price.” They will receive grants from this fund to distribute to students as they see fit. No applications, no paperwork. Just cash, delivered when and where it’s needed.
Sara is a sociologist. She knows Fast Fund isn’t a structural solution but neither was that $25 I borrowed from the Dean almost ten years ago now.
Fast Fund is a model for disseminating research that impacts the lives so many of us study in the course of work.
I am joining Fast Fund’s board and look forward to seeing this seedling grow. I especially hope minority serving institutions will accept Fast Fund’s invitation to apply.
You can, of course, talk about it or you can be about it.Cheers to Fast Fund for being about it.