Thousands of students are using GoFundMe to pay for college expenses

When bank loans and personal savings run thin, thousands of students are turning to an unlikely source to pay for college: crowdfunding.

New data released by GoFundMe, the crowdfunding site launched in 2010, finds that within the last three years more than 100,000 campaigns have raised over $60 million in donations, strictly to pay for higher education. Most of the campaigns focus on incidentals, such as textbooks, housing deposits, and airfare to study abroad.

Rob Solomon, GoFundMe's CEO, says the trend indicates that students increasingly need relief from expenses as their tuition costs continue to soar.

"There's this misconception out there that when a kid receives financial aid or a scholarship, that they're set," Solomon tells Business Insider. In fact, that scholarship money may only cover tuition, and possibly their room and board. It won't cover all the extra costs that universities pile on, which can force many students to leave altogether.

"The incidentals associated with college sometimes are the difference between staying in college and having to drop out," he says.

Most GoFundMe campaigns are focused on healthcare costs, disaster relief, and funeral and memorial services. But Solomon says education is quickly becoming one of the site's more popular categories. Right now it's in the top 10, he says. Within the next few years it could easily crack the top five.

Most of the donations come from friends and family members — "one or two degrees of separation," Solomon says. In special cases, kids' campaigns will get picked up by news media and go viral.

In 2016, for example, a mother from Compton, California raised over $21,000 to cover four years' worth of costs of books, supplies, and warm clothes for her son while he attends Harvard.

Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, GoFundMe allows people to take home all the money they raise, regardless of whether they hit their target. Still, Solomon says the most successful campaigns home in on a specific need instead of issuing a vague cry for help.

"If they have no way to pay for books, they ask specifically for $1,200 for this semester's worth of books," he says.

Ultimately, Solomon wants his site to cut down on how many kids have to drop out because they can't afford such side costs. Too often, he says, he's heard of kids who can pay for tuition and housing but can't come up with a couple hundred bucks to cover a crucial administrative cost.

GoFundMe and similar crowdfunding sites won't necessarily become the main way kids pay for school, Solomon admits — that still takes extensive help from state and federal government — but lifting at least some of the burden can go a long way.

"It's important that people really understand that this is a new solution," he says. "It's people coming together to help people out ... and that's making a big difference in a lot of students' lives."

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