RaiseMe Gets $15M to Help Students Cut College Costs If They Do Well in...


RaiseMe Gets $15M to Help Students Cut College Costs If They Do Well in School

By Tony Wan     Jul 26, 2018

RaiseMe Gets $15M to Help Students Cut College Costs If They Do Well in School

Research suggests that simply paying kids for good grades doesn’t always work. But could students be better motivated with a more meaningful kind of monetary reward—say, college scholarships?

That’s an incentive that RaiseMe believes will help grow its online service that aggregates scholarship opportunities from colleges and, more importantly, outlines what students need to do to qualify for them. The tool spells it out in concrete details: an A in any course, for instance, could shave $750 off the college bill. Taking an AP class could qualify for $2,000. Each hour of community service could save another $20.

It’s a business that’s also reaped the San Francisco-based startup some money, too—$15 million, to be precise. That’s how much investors have committed to RaiseMe in a Series B funding round led by Teamworthy Ventures. Other backers include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Salesforce Ventures and Strada Education Network. The company has raised $31.5 million in venture capital to date.

To say that college is expensive is a redundant understatement. Yet many schools do offer aid, and RaiseMe wants students and families to be aware of scholarship opportunities earlier in the application process. It’s not unusual for them to seek out these supports until after they’ve made a decision about where to go to college, says Preston Silverman, co-founder and CEO of RaiseMe.

“Billions of dollars are awarded each year to help students pay for college,” he says in an interview with EdSurge, “but historically kids don’t know much about this aid until after they’ve decided where they want to go.” Silverman says the lack of transparency could be particularly discouraging “for students from low-income communities who may be scared of the sticker price of college.”

On RaiseMe, students can see a list of colleges, their scholarship milestones, what they have to do to fulfill the criteria, and how much savings they can potentially rack up. The company works with higher-ed institutions to create this list of achievements that can range from perfect attendance and participating in extracurricular activities to maintaining a high GPA and passing an AP exam.

Example of scholarship milestones available through a college on RaiseMe
Screenshot provided by RaiseMe

The platform also doubles as a college-search tool, and RaiseMe pitches this to higher-ed institutions as a way to boost their visibility. More than 285 colleges and universities are on the platform, according to the company. For them, says Silverman, “it’s an opportunity to engage with students earlier.”

RaiseMe’s mission may not be entirely unique or original. A Google search for “college scholarships” turns up results for many websites that also aggregate scholarship and financial aid opportunities. And companies like CampusLogic have worked for years with higher-ed institutions to streamline how scholarships are managed.

But one selling point for RaiseMe is its design, which offers a “tangible way to show students how merit-based scholarships are spelled out,” says Heather Decker, a college counselor at Leadership Public Schools in Hayward, Calif. She adds: “There are checkboxes that students can identify and say, ‘If I do this, here’s how much I can earn.’”

The charter high-school network has been using RaiseMe since 2015, and there are 180 students currently using the tool at Decker’s campus. She hesitates to say whether taking part in these scholarship challenges have led to a boost in their grades, but has observed that students have been more willing to participate in extracurricular activities like volunteering and attending college fairs—things that check the scholarship boxes. The platform “helps students understand what it takes to become a strong college applicant,” she says.

On RaiseMe, students create their own profiles and self-report whether or not they’ve achieved the scholarship criteria. The honor-code system should work, says RaiseMe’s Silverman, because colleges don’t actually apply the discounts until after a student has enrolled and has submitted their transcripts and other materials relevant to the scholarship. “If anything is found to be falsely reported, then you can jeopardize your standing,” he adds.

In other words, while RaiseMe offers a list of available scholarship opportunities and their criteria, the amount that students self-report may not be the final sum that the college awards. That’s ultimately up for the higher-ed institution to verify. Assuming that there is nothing fishy, the school guarantees that students receive at minimum the amount that they’ve racked up on RaiseMe.

At Decker’s school, 180 students are using RaiseMe. By their account, they’ve fulfilled enough scholarship requirements that would potentially be worth $12 million in savings.

But there’s a snag. None of Decker’s students who have previously used RaiseMe have received the scholarship amounts. There are a number of reasons: the platform currently has few public California schools, where many students ended up attending. The other may be that RaiseMe requires students to finish 15 scholarship accomplishments several months ahead of college application deadlines (so that the company can relay the information to those schools). That’s not something that Leadership Public School can easily accommodate in its schedule and support students with.

It may also raise an equity issue. “More affluent schools are better-suited to help students complete early applications,” she points out, while those with limited resources and staff may not have the time to provide that support. Decker has given this feedback to RaiseMe.

The company does not charge students or K-12 schools. Instead, it charges colleges anywhere from $15,000 to a mid-six-figure sum each year to be on the platform. A back-of-the-napkin calculation suggests the company should be making more than $4 million in revenue at a minimum.

RaiseMe claims it’s now used by more than 1.2 million students across two-thirds of U.S. high schools. Since the tool launched in fall 2014, students who have gone on to attend colleges that are on the platform have racked up approximately $2.5 billion in potential scholarship savings, according to the company. (The actual disbursement figure may be different, since students may receive additional financial aid from the school after they enroll. Or the students may decide to go elsewhere.)

Along with the new investment, RaiseMe is also announcing a product for community-college students, dubbed “RaiseMe for Transfers.” In addition to surfacing scholarship opportunities, this tool aims to help students plan whether certain credits or classes are transferable to the four-year school where they want to go, and to manage their coursework accordingly.

This group “has historically been a population that’s been underserved by the education technology industry,” says Silverman. Citing research from The College Board, he notes that although 80 percent of these students intend to transfer to a four-year institution, only 25 percent do so successfully.

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