founding story

In my 16 years in education, I know one thing to be true. Getting to college is tough, but getting through college and doing it alone is even tougher.

The cost of college has gone up more than 179% over the last 20 years. That means that if I went to Baylor in 1996 (I did) and it cost me $8,070 for tuition (just tuition, nothing else); it should have nearly doubled! Yet 2016 tuition is actually $34,480! (And the all-in cost of attendance at Baylor is now $54,000.)

I know, that’s a lot of exclamation points. You get it, college students need help paying their college bills. And that is essentially how edfurther came to be.

edfurther.org is a non-profit crowdfunding site for college scholarships. The mission is simple–to ensure that financial need is never a barrier for furthering an education. Donations are safe and tax deductible.

Every kid has a story—a past, a present, and a future. And you can read up on the edfurther scholars here. These are incredible young people, handpicked for their work ethic and commitment. There is one whose story will resonate with you. Just pick one. Help one. If you don’t know which one, make a general donation, and I’ll help direct it for you.

But this is about the edfurther story. I am 40 years old (well, 41). I still owe on my college loans. I worked hard to scrape by in college and have the debt (and degrees) to prove it. My career in education has been to increase opportunities for low-income students.

Four years ago, I saw a tweet (yes, on Twitter) from a Spring Branch and Genesys Works alum who needed $252 in three days to stay enrolled for his senior year. He didn’t know who to call. We got it fixed, but the situation stuck with me. From James’ story, edfurther was born.

And here we are, I set up edfurther and launched a pilot. edfurther.org is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a secure site that will process credit cards through PayPal or Stripe (I even take checks) for college scholarships for students who need us. Now after two semesters and 24 students, we have raised a little over $12,000! Fees are not passed on to students, so 100% of your donation goes to pay their college bill (checks are written to the universities).

Will you prove that this work matters? Prove that we believe in them. Every gift matters and adds up to a bigger scholarship to keep a scholar on track.

james beeks: almost out of options

From research, it is said that less than 2% of undergraduate students in the United States participate in study abroad. As a person from an underserved community, my dream of leaving the country had finally become a reality. The five weeks in England seemed to pass by in the blink of eye. I returned to the piney woods of East Texas only to be burdened with the stress of paying off the remainder of a tuition loan. Plan A of working to pay off the $600+ balance was in effect, but as the fall semester inched closer, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of defeat; I did not have the sufficient funds to cover the remaining loan balance.

Plan B of working out a payment solution with the university business office did not work, so I began to accept the reality of spending my final year of college at home. As with many millennials, I voiced my stress through the 160 character limit on Twitter. I had a built a strong following and previously connected with Chris Gonzalez, a fellow Spring Branch ISD and Genesys Works supporter. My thoughts prompted a direct follow up with Chris and the mentorship began.

At this point in my life, I felt as if I exhausted all of the resources I could possibly depend on such as family (low income), school (financial aid), and personal. There was no Plan C and I believed that my time at Stephen F. Austin was coming to a close due to finances.

With guidance from Chris Gonzalez, a resolution was in sight. As a next step, Chris put me in contact with Dr. Klussmann of SBISD, who delivered a solution. With this assistance, the financial need I had was fulfilled and I was excited to start my final year of college without a financial burden. I was now able to focus on finishing strong and applying my study abroad experience to the remainder of undergrad and beyond.

As I walked across the stage a few months later, I reminisced about this moment, as being significant for me to not only graduate, but graduate on the 4-year mark. The support is needed by many students who are out of options. #Crowdfunding #ToAndThroughCollege #SelfReflection

Chris’ Note: James’ experience gave me the idea for edfurther. I knew it shouldn’t have to be that hard to get across the finish line. He was so close, and a $250 gap was about to make his graduation impossible. So close and yet so far away. 

selfishness or selflessness

I just returned from six days of reflecting on myself and my place in the world (ALF Wilderness), during which I learned from our diverse community, their experiences, their purposes, and their hearts. I am better because they have enriched me. I have not felt this great sense of focus, self, and hope since college. Yet I worry that too many college students don’t get to truly be hopeful.

While in a valley near a natural rock sculpture under Pike’s Peak, I reflected on many things including this topic:

Are the best college students selfish? College is a time to educate yourself and grow into the next stage of your life–the time when you contribute to society (and create income). To be the best student, you must focus on yourself (and maybe your place in the world) and study to grow more. You set aside the problems at home or in your community. You leave it all behind you. You focus on you. Maybe you listen and learn from others or volunteer, but it is still about focusing on the YOU you will become.

Is this focus by nature a selfish act?

For me, college was about selfishness. I may have worked to pay for food and rent and borrowed to pay tuition, but I could focus on Moi (and I got to waste time on a French minor and classes like French Cinematography).

For too many of my edfurther students, “letting go of problems” seems impossible.

  • Arue worries about her mother being alone after her uncle’s death.
  • Astrid pays her brother’s tuition for UT before she pays her own.
  • Ariel is a father has knows his work hours are undependable (sometimes too many, sometimes too few). College matters but so does his daughter.

Their hearts are huge. They are not selfish. They are young and have big dreams. College is their path, they need our support.

I hope you will join me in giving our college students permission to be selfish, just for these few years, so that they can be selfless in the future as they make the world a better place.

back to school

This time of year buzzes with excitement and energy. New school clothes, shiny shoes, crisp binders, pens, and paper. Even the backpacks sparkle.

I know that back-to-school time is expensive for families. Trust me, I know. I have four kids who need all that new school stuff. And it’s a tough time for many of our college students trying to head back for fall semester. Their financial aid award letters are coming in and some are lower than expected. They are anxious about payment plans and what to cut from their educations.

  • Will I drop a class and hover just above full-time status?
  • Will I choose to drop my meal plan or cut back to one meal per day (stashing fruit and snacks into backpacks for the other meals)?
  • Will I have to find cheaper off-campus housing?
  • Will I delay buying books until later in the semester, missing out on critical learning time at the beginning of the semester?
  • Will I not be able to go back?

For too many college students whose families don’t have extra money in the bank, the answer to these questions ends up being  a sad, disheartened “Yes.” (And in this case, yes is bad.)

And this feels like a broken promise. These are hardworking kids who have done everything else right.

They need your help today. Many of our edfurther students need to close their scholarship accounts in early August to get their finances ready for fall and still have large gaps to fill.

If everyone who saw this post gave one student $10, we would max out all of their scholarships. But let’s be realistic, if everyone who felt a niggle in their gut to help, gave $20, we could change the world.

The giving process is easy. Click on a student (really any one because they are all equally in need), grab your credit card and select PayPal or Stripe both of which are safe, third party vendors who process credit card contributions.

Will you change the world with me?  

change happens: astrid gonzalez

By Astrid Gonzalez 

Change happens all the time. I have no problem with change; I welcome it. I always thought I’d study political science and then go to law school. Yet life played out differently, bringing a new, uncharted path.

Dreams

I had dreamed about being a lawyer and the decision to not follow this road was not an easy one. I could have allowed my parents to take on debt for me. When the time came to make the final decision, I told my parents that under no circumstance were they allowed to borrow money for my college tuition. And that was that. I no longer had the same plan.

Reality Check

I proceeded to look for an affordable education (I may not be attending and became a full-time student at Houston Community College. I am proud to have attended HCC. Besides saving money I completed two degrees just a year after high school. I have also been able to work and save money for my brother’s education and dreams. He will study mechanical engineering at Texas A&M in the fall.

Now on my continued quest for a bachelor’s degree finances are a problem again. But my life’s purpose keeps me focused.

My Purpose

My grandmother beat cancer once, but five years later it came back for round two. Once again she refused to put her life on hold and kept to her routine of looking after her property, crops, and livestock. She refused pills to help ease the pain, because even though they made the pain go away they would kill her faster on the inside. Unfortunately, she succumbed to the strategic metastasizing blows of cancer.

Seeing the pain cancer brought to my family and not being able to meet my grandmother made me determined from a young age to contribute to the efforts in finding a cure for such a horrible disease.

Gratitude

I am grateful for the support of my parents, family, friends, and investors like many of you that allows me to stay on track to reach my goal. I also plan to support my youngest brother as well in two years when he graduates from high school, because this is what big sisters do.

Invest in Astrid’s future and scholarship here. 

obscure majors

6 things all German (or other obscure) majors should know.

Though there are probably 10 other more researched articles to disagree, I believe your major matters less than you think. If you do have an obscure major like German (and live in Texas), then you have to be very smart about your time in college. Here’s some of what I suggest.

  1. Make sure you are active on campus, in work, and in the community.
    Join a service organization. Tutor community kids. Get a part-time job. Intern at a big company. Do things that are worth doing and talking about in interviews and when networking (see #5).
  2. Double up and double major. A concrete and specific second major like business or accounting never hurts. It also rounds out your skills. It doesn’t have to align with your other major but should give you more worldly context and options. Options are always good.
  3. Explore your passions while you can.
    Today is the day to become well rounded and gain new experiences. Trust me this wisdom and knowledge will come in handy in life when you least expect it.
  4. Get to know your profs personally.
    Ask for help and build personal lasting relationships. Beyond their wisdom today, they will be awesome references later.
  5. Network.
    Whether through internships or campus events in the other colleges, meet people often. Follow-up with with handwritten thank you notes (yes, they always work).
  6. Find internships that round out your resume.
    Get experience in where you are headed not where you have been. Yes, you should get paid for these jobs–don’t get me started–but you also need a resume that tells the story of your potential. And no matter what job you have, make a lasting impression on customers, team members, and managers by giving it your all.

And let’s be honest, all of this is probably good advice for every college student, whether your major is obscure or specific.

changing the world for nigeria: phyllis nwokolo

Read Phyllis’ words yourself and see why I believe an investment in her education will truly change the world.

My name is Phyllis Nwokolo. I am going to change the world, and this is my story.

I remember living in the city, waking up to the hustle of food vendors in the corners of the street calling out to customers, the sound of the motorcycles, or as we called them the “okadas”, experiencing the highs and lows of the fickle electricity, playing outside with the neighborhood children poor and rich alike, and then going to bed with the dying but still persistent music of life in the city. However, when we drove to the village to visit relatives and come together as a family, I seemed to be transported through a tunnel to a world of a very simple but difficult way of life.

To a child like me it was the best, where my routine was wake up, play, and sleep, but as I grew up and continued to visit the village, that tunnel I went through as a child broke away and opened up into the crippled and pot holed roads we took, and expanded to encompass the poor women and children competitively selling bread to try and sustain themselves, and the poverty stricken shacks, and houses. Nevertheless, these people, despite their circumstances, are still happier than those who reside in mansions with a surplus of wealth. The village was never the same and my innocent and ignorant view of the world was shattered.

These memories of my experiences in Nigeria remained with me even as I relocated to the land of milk and honey, the United States of America to unite my family and start anew. Even though I left Nigeria, I left with an understanding that my life goal is to alleviate the negative stereotypes associated with poor areas rich in culture and so much more like my village and to medically empower the people of these villages through education and accessible healthcare.

This passion was cultivated while I attending Harmony Science Academy; where teachers and counselors, such as Ms. Spears, aided me by not only educating me about the world I planned to change, and how to go about accomplishing my goal, but also by helping me understand that that I have the power and can attain the knowledge I need to make my passion a reality ¬ a priceless lesson ¬ . With this intensified passion, I am now successfully pursuing a Bachelor’s of Science degree in public health, a minor in biology, while on a pre-med track.

Through the higher education I am currently receiving, I don’t just dream to change the world through medicine, I am now formulating a plan to do so, and the first step to graduate and become a medical doctor. However, the first step is being threatened by a lack of financial stability, and that’s why I’m asking for your help. My father is a dislocated worker, and he was the main financial support for our family, so with his source of income gone, we are under a lot of financial stress. My desire to achieve my goal knows no bounds and I would greatly appreciate your support to help make it possible.

Learn more about Phyllis and invest in her college scholarship fund here

142 reasons

Some times I realize just how lucky I really am. I recently had the humbling honor of reading 142 scholarship essays for the Spring Branch Education Foundation. And I cried.

My heart bled as I read 142 essays of students who had overcome challenges that would bring most adults to their knees. Yet day after day, they woke up and stood strong to achieve scholastic and extracurricular successes. These kids had climbed mountains to graduate and challenged themselves and those around them to be better because of their circumstances, not in spite of their situation.

These kids (sorry, at 17 and 18 they are still kids; tomorrow as college freshmen, they can be young adults) have so much incredible potential, and they have shared their hearts and pains for college admission and scholarships. All of them are incredible.

If you read their essays, you would also weep tears of pain, joy, and hope.

They are 142 reasons why edfurther will launch very soon. Then you, too, can read the essays of tomorrow’s leaders.

Don’t count on Facebook for updates about edfurther’s launch. If you want to be added to my update list, click here.