Posted by: Haris H. | April 24, 2009

On Access and Affordability

Daniel Dennett and Michael Carter at CCAP blog about innovative approaches to increasing college affordability and access. While Dennett and Carter focus on provision of better information and counseling to students as they prepare for college, they also note the following:

the current financial aid process has failed to achieve its objectives to increase access, increase affordability and promote equality of opportunity. The current financial aid model falsely assumes that dropping money out of airplanes over college campuses will in some way fix these problems, without addressing the root of them. … [T]he US spends more per capita on education than any other country in the world.

The practice of channeling ever more government money into education has clearly not improved either affordability or access – in the last five years, the cost of four-year colleges rose 31% above the general inflation rate. Dennett and Carter pinpoint the main reason when they note that money is being dropped over college campuses: money is given to schools or is otherwise tied to a school, rather than provided to students. As a result, students are far less sensitive to increases in tuition. Rather than being provided with an incentive to shop around for a more affordable school, students instead face increasing costs and ever higher debts.

Our mission here at Discover Scholars is not to funnel more money to bloated institutional bureaucracies. Instead, we want to empower students by providing them with money that they can decide how to use, and to empower donors by letting them choose what types of students then want to support. Funding students rather than institutions will create some necessary competition between schools, resulting in higher quality education and lower costs – just the results we want.

Help us continue to grow:

Donors: Who do you want to support? Make a tax-deductible contribution to students today!

Students: Click here to apply.

Posted by: Jonathan Bydlak | April 23, 2009

DiscoverScholars Update

It’s been quite a while since we last blogged about what we’ve been up to,  so we wanted to give you a brief update.

In the last few months, we’ve seen an influx of student applications, as demand for scholarship funding from students is probably as great as it’s ever been. Much of our recent work has been concentrated on improving our behind-the-scenes infrastructure to handle this increasing demand.

But perhaps our biggest development during the last month has been [finally!] receiving word from the IRS that we are officially a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. We’ve written on here in the past about the difficulty of this process, but the wait was worth it: you can view our official exemption letter here. With this obstacle now out of our way, all of contributions in support to students via DiscoverScholars.org are fully tax-deductible!

We’ve also expanded our board of directors, and in the next week, I’ll be introducing them to our readers. Look for them to start blogging, and expect regular updates from here on out.

We’ll be sharing updates of our progress, offering ways that you can help us, discussing our take on higher education, and talking about whatever happens to be on our minds.

In the meantime, you can follow us in a number of ways: on Facebook, Twitter, via e-mail, or by adding the DS blog to your favorite reader.

Thanks so much for your support of DiscoverScholars!

Posted by: Discover Scholars | December 10, 2008

Taking online fundraising to a more personal level

Bryan Miller, author of the blog Giving in a digital world, recently had some interesting thoughts about DiscoverScholars.org.  Here are some highlights from his post, “Discover Scholars: Taking online fundraising to a more personal level?:”

I just came across Discover Scholars when I was taking a look at the finalists in this year’s Open Web Awards, where they have been shortlisted in the Non-profit Causes category.

They’re an interesting non-profit organisation that awards scholarships to students across the US – but with all their funding coming from individual donors who use the Discover Scholars website to select the type of student they want to help with their education…

This transparent funding approach is very much in-line with the growing demand from donors for more understanding of exactly how their money is being used and the desire to feel closer to what they’re funding. Recognition of which has led to a growing range of nonprofits – like Global Giving and Donors Choose – using the web to let donors select the specific project they want to fund.

However, the difference here is the framing of the offer to the donor – introduced on the homepage with the line… “Wish there were a scholarship foundation that supported the students you would choose to support yourself? With Discover Scholars.org, now there is…” – which is very much focused on the individual being funded rather than a class of students or a study-related project.

The only other organisation I can think of that takes the funding transparency down to the individual level is micro-investment organisation Kiva. But Kiva and Discover Scholars are very different in the way they actually offer donor choice…

From the amount of detailed background available on the site the need for such funding has clearly been very well thought through by its founders. However, I fear that this could be a case of a great personalised core donor proposition being significantly weakened because of the need to change the way it is implemented and that this will seriously impact their ability to attract significant volumes of donors in the way other online fundraising startups have. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.

Rest assured, we’re doing everything we can to ensure that Bryan’s hope comes true.

Won’t you help us by making a financial contribution to DiscoverScholars.org before the end of the year?

Posted by: Discover Scholars | December 8, 2008

DiscoverScholars.org Named Finalist in Mashable’s Open Web Awards

DiscoverScholars.org Named Finalist in Mashable’s Open Web Awards

Innovative scholarship organization moves closer to prestigious Web 2.0 award

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                          CONTACT: Jonathan Bydlak
December 8, 2008                                                      (202) 470-6782

ARLINGTON, VA – DiscoverScholars.org, a non-profit organization that awards scholarships to students based on the interests of donors in the marketplace, announced today that it has been voted a finalist for Mashable.com’s “Non-Profit Cause” Open Web Award. Only three organizations advanced to the final round of voting.

Often considered the ‘Oscars’ of the internet, many commentators say that the Open Web Awards offer a glimpse into next year’s ‘rising stars. From Mashable.com:

Open Web Awards is the only multilingual international online voting competition that covers major innovations in web technology. Through an online nominating and voting process, the Open Web Awards recognizes and honors the top achievements in 26 categories.

The first Open Web Awards achieved over 250,000 votes combined between Mashable and our 50 international blog partners. Winners included Facebook, Digg, Google, Meetup, Twitter, Netvibes, woot!, Last.fm and Mahalo.

After more than 50,000 nominations and in excess of 80,000 verified votes from the web community, we’re pleased to announce the finalists in the Open Web Awards, an open, international contest to find the web’s best sites and services. Congratulations to all the finalists!

DiscoverScholars.org is the only scholarship-granting organization that allows charitable donors to specify student attributes with their contributions, from grades and majors to extracurriculars and athletics, with the knowledge that worthy students possessing those attributes will benefit from their donations.

Zinch.com recently described DiscoverScholars.org as the first “P2P forum for philanthropists to give money directly to [the types of] students that interest them.”

More information can be found at www.DiscoverScholars.org.

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Posted by: Discover Scholars | November 20, 2008

The 2nd Annual Mashable Open Web Awards

It’s been a while since we’ve blogged about our progress — so much has been going on that we’ve fallen behind with our blogging!

Most noteworthy at the moment is that DiscoverScholars.org has been nominated for best new Non-Profit Cause in the Mashable Open Web Awards. On Wednesday, it was announced that we were one of the top 10 highest vote-getters in the non-profit category, which has advanced us into the next round of voting!

Winning this award will bring significant attention to DiscoverScholars.org. As Mashable‘s website states:

Mashable is proud to announce that voting has begun in the 2nd Annual Open Web Awards, a unique opportunity for the most accomplished websites and services to receive international recognition for their achievements.

You can help us by casting your vote for DiscoverScholars.org. You can vote once per day between now and November 30th, so it would be incredibly helpful if you could vote for us every day.

Here’s the direct link to vote:

http://mashable.polldaddy.com/widget/x2.aspx?f=f&c=24&cn=269

Thanks for all your support, and don’t forget to send this link to others who might be interested. The more people you tell about DiscoverScholars.org, the better our chances of winning!

Posted by: Discover Scholars | October 29, 2008

Too Many College Students?

As tuition costs continue to increase and college enrollment reaches an historic high, various commentators have argued that too many students are attending college in the United States (see further commentary here, here, and here). The common thread throughout these arguments, besides being aimed against government subsidies of higher education, is that a political focus on “access” has induced additional students to attend college. These pundits further argue that the influx of additional students has resulted in higher dropout rates and/or lower academic standards.

Cato’s Kevin Cary sums up the counterargument to these views:

The main benefit of a good college education: It teaches students not how to do but how to think in ways that are applicable across varied careers. And such skills are much more important to many more people now than they were eighty years ago. The future economy will hold vast numbers of jobs that have yet to be invented. The bachelor’s degree will qualify students to pursue all of them and graduate education besides, while a narrowly defined certificate, by definition, will not.

As we’ve mentioned in other contexts, each side makes persuasive points. We agree that increased government involvement often leads to a reduction in academic standards and increased tuition costs. However, we also agree that the future economy will be increasingly dynamic, and that it’s important for education to help students become flexible learners for their future jobs.

Ensuring that education effectively provides the skills for the current and future economy is important, but also difficult. As Michael Offerman points out:

There is no question that our higher education system is less than efficient in linking the number and types of graduates produced to job market needs.  And that is not an easy undertaking to solve.

While the undertaking is extremely complex, we believe that DiscoverScholars.org provides a crucial part of the solution. First, our venture helps make higher education more efficient, both at educating students and at providing a quality labor force to the economy. Since DiscoverScholars.org is driven by donor choice, we provide a means for donors to direct funds to students who are most likely to succeed and benefit, instead of those likely to drop out.

An important caveat to this point is that we give employers a logical reason to fund students in fields from which they anticipate drawing their employees. As Givewell’s Holden Karnofsky has explained, most of the time it makes little sense for corporations to give to charitable causes — doing so shifts resources from a company’s strength to things about which it knows comparatively little.

But imagine Apple and Microsoft’s charitable contributions funding the next generation of computer programmers, or Toyota and GM funding future engineers. Whereas corporations who currently give to higher education may be misguided, firms who fund students through DiscoverScholars.org could benefit their shareholders while also helping those in need.

Help us continue to grow:

Students: Apply today!

Donors: Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the students of your choice.

Posted by: Discover Scholars | October 28, 2008

Google 10 to the 100: YouTube video

In the last installment of our responses to Google’s Project 10 to the 100th, we wanted to share the shortened YouTube video that we provided with our application.

# 17. You may also submit 1 YouTube video (max 30 seconds long) explaining your project. Enter the URL of your YouTube video.

Posted by: Discover Scholars | October 24, 2008

Google 10 to the 100: Measuring success

This week, we are featuring our responses to Google’s Project 10 to the 100th. For more background information, start by reading our original post here. In today’s post, we describe how we will measure the success of DiscoverScholars.org.

# 15. Describe the optimal outcome should your idea be selected and successfully implemented. How would you measure it? (maximum 150 words)

If our idea is implemented successfully, far more students will gain access to educational funding and be able to attend the college of their choice.

We will quantify our success by the number of applicants and students funded, and the amount of funding they receive. Better measurements will include the number of students who attend college because of our efforts, and how many receive funding from DiscoverScholars.org, but not from other sources.

Donors should better understand the allocation and impact of their contributions if we are successful. We will track participation by our number of donors over time and the total funds they contribute to students, and satisfaction through donor surveys.

Most importantly, successful implementation of our idea could revolutionize the future of educational giving. We want to see the creation of other organizations that subsidize students directly, and an increase in the transparency of other aid-granting organizations.

Posted by: Discover Scholars | October 23, 2008

Google 10 to the 100: Getting off the ground

This week, we are featuring our responses to Google’s Project 10 to the 100th. For more background information, start by reading our original post here. Below we discuss what is necessary to get DiscoverScholars.org off the ground.

# 14. What are the initial steps required to get this idea off the ground? (maximum 150 words)

First, we need to attract a critical mass of students in search of educational aid and donors who are willing to support them. This will require promotional and informational work, as well as a centralized website to serve as the link between donors and students.

The early focus will be to use existing social networking tools to attract students, and a more involved informational campaign, using directed mailings, press attention, and face-to-face contact, aimed at potential donors. Staff will be needed to properly promote our idea, answer questions from donors and students, organize events, arrange mailings, obtain press attention, and speak at schools and other interested organizations.

The website should accept and store student applications, and securely process donor contributions, as well as provide students with tools for updating and checking on their application’s status and give donors the ability to learn more about the students they funded.

Help us continue to grow:

Students: Apply today!

Donors: Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the students of your choice.

Posted by: Discover Scholars | October 22, 2008

Google 10 to the 100: Who benefits?

This week, we are featuring our responses to Google’s Project 10 to the 100th. For more background information, start by reading our original post here. Below we discuss what groups of people benefit most from DiscoverScholars.org.

# 13. If your idea were to become a reality, who would benefit the most and how? (maximum 150 words)

Students in need of educational funding would benefit most from our idea. It would provide them with money for college and slash the time they spend applying for tuition assistance.  One application would expose each student to a plethora of potential donors.

Our idea would put downward pressure on college costs by encouraging the elimination of wasteful expenditures. A vibrant market of donors would lessen students’ reliance on colleges’ financial aid packages. Students would have the same amount of financial aid regardless of which college they attend, freeing them to choose schools based on other criteria.

Charitable donors would derive significant benefits over the status quo, as they would no longer be forced to support the opportunity of individuals by giving to colleges and other institutions. Donors could be sure their money is spent in ways they desire, and this increased transparency would encourage more people to support higher education.

Help us continue to grow:

Students: Apply today!

Donors: Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the students of your choice.

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