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SCHOLARgifts Help Fill Gap in Education Funding

Dorothy Rowley | 12/18/2013, 1:20 p.m.

A new website launched by a D.C. attorney has joined the network of financial support systems that help students achieve their higher education goals.

The SCHOLARgifts crowd-funding initiative, which was recently launched by organization CEO Nkechi Taifa, operates on the collective efforts of teachers, parents, mentors, co-workers and others who pool their money online to support students in pursuit of their education or related endeavors. For example, a group of Howard University students who used a similar crowd-funding platform raised a few thousand dollars last fall to help defray expenses for a 14-day trip to West Africa.

"A year ago I had never heard of crowd-funding," Taifa said. "Then last spring, I balked when my college-age daughter asked me to pay for her study-abroad dream trip. Being unqualified for need-based aid and already borrowing from Peter, Paul and Mary to foot her steep and ever-rising college tuition, I said with tough love, 'Sweetie, you're on your own.'"

To her surprise, in less than 30 days her daughter had successfully raised more than $3,000 from family, friends and complete strangers via the Internet.

"This was the inspiration that gave rise to SCHOLARgifts," Taifa said. "It's collective fundraising for a specific educational purpose with no red tape or hassle, no essay or recommendations, no income qualifications and no competition. All that is needed is the desire to succeed and the ability to motivate others to invest in making learning a reality."

Taifa explained that through SCHOLARgifts, a large number of people help a student succeed in areas such as tuition, study, research and training by donating small monetary gifts to her crowd-funding campaign.

While each crowd-funding website offers its own spin, the concept is generally the same: a fundraising period is established and pledged money is collected from the contributors once the period ends. If the goal is not met, no money is collected. The sites, which have a cap on the amount of money that can be raised, also track donations that can continue after a goal is met.

Taifa described crowd-funding as a unique and fast-growing financial assistance resource that has even been given a thumbs-up by the Obama administration.

"Just last year, the president signed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which lets businesses raise funds in small increments from many investors — the essence of crowd-funding," she said. "[It's] the kind of innovative strategy millions of American families need to help fill the gap between soaring tuition costs and fewer available education loans."