Educational achievements are high on the list of many in today's world. Perhaps it has always been, but circumstances of the time, especially monies have always kept individuals from being able to pursue an education.
Today, while an education may be available to most, especially in the Caribbean region, the rising costs of education are limiting and make that available education inaccessible.
Student loans are an option for persons without access funds for an education but many times, these loans may create more long term burden as they can leave persons crippled with debt years after they have completed their education.
In the Caribbean, there has been a significant drop in the number number of students enrolled in many tertiary institutions. One can concur that tuition and other fees contribute to a large degree to these low enrollments.
So how do aspiring academics and professionals in the region access quality education? What creative avenues are there to secure funding for an education in 2016 and beyond?
Quite recently, many have began turning to an effective avenue for sourcing funds and this has began catching on around the globe. Many are beginning to realize that to invest in the education of our young people is to invest in our nation's future.
Many are beginning to realize that to invest in the education of our young people is to invest in our nation's future.
One perfect example of a young woman striving to reach her academic goals through crowd funding is Shalisha Samuel. Shalisha, an aspiring law professional, gave us her experience in using this avenue and answered some of the many questions that Caribbean people may have about this new method of funding education. If you've been weighing your options on funding for your education, Shalisha also offers some advice that may prove helpful to you.
Who is Shalisha Samuel?
Shalisha: A worldwide woman that loves the sound of suitcase wheels and airport announcements from the departure longue. I feel a bit like Robin Hood for knowledge. There are some secrets of life known to a select few and I grab as much information as I can and pass it on to those with less access. I also love food – but who doesn’t?
Tell us about your study programme.
Shalisha: I’ll be pursuing the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) at the University of Law (formerly College of Law) in Birmingham. It’s the final academic step before becoming a lawyer and the equivalent of attending either Hugh Wooding or Norman Manley Law School.
Why did you choose a U.K programme instead of a regional one?
Shalisha: The cost for our regional law schools is more than studies in the U.K because Vincentian students have to pay the full tuition regionally. Some governments make a contribution, which reduces the cost of the programme for students such as Trinidad, Barbados and Grenada.
Additionally, I completed my undergraduate degree in Law, the LLB, with the University of London. Therefore, as an external or non-UWI student, I have to take an entrance exam. The success rate is low and even where if one is successful there is no guarantee of placement because of limited space at the law schools.
Tell us about your decision to crowd fund your studies
Shalisha: Crowd funding my education was not the first thing that came to mind when researching finance options. In fact, I was hoping to receive a loan or a scholarship for law school. It sprung to mind somehow and I threw it out there to a friend for feedback: “You think It’ll be crazy if I do an online fundraiser for school?” and he said no. I then asked two other friends to make sure that him and I weren’t both mad and they too encouraged me to do it. It was my last option as I was unable to access loans and it was a great avenue for friends and family who want to assist to be able to. Your Godmother may not be able to pay your tuition but she can likely donate US$10!
How did you decide which platform to use?
Shalisha: I did some research and found that Generosity best suited my needs. There are no fees because this platform is meant for charitable fundraisers only. For-profit ventures can be launched on their parent company’s website, Indiegogo, however. There is a 3% transaction fee when credit cards are used which is a standard payment-processing fee. One does not need a U.S bank account but there is a $25 wire transfer fee for international disbursements.
What happens if a student doesn’t raise all the money?
Shalisha: The student can continue with their campaign until they reach their goal. I personally had hoped to raise $20, 000 USD in time to begin studies in September 2016 but I’ll continue the campaign until 2017 instead. Not being able to raise all of the desired funds should not be a deterrent. It’s best to raise something rather than nothing at all. One realizes that the bit saved still helps towards the larger goal.
Is a degree a worthy cause to crowd source?
Shalisha: Fundraising for a degree is definitely a worthy cause. It surely is not for chemotherapy or an organ transplant, therefore when taken at face value there is no dire need per say. However, its value should not be diminished. Education is an investment that has a lot of potential to multiply. I think we can move beyond giving only where giving is to restore an individual to where they were before (e.g, prior to a house fire) and think of giving as a way to advance an individual to a state of increased opportunities.
A degree still has relevance for social mobility. At the micro level, an educated family member helps to open the door for more opportunities and prospects for their family becoming independent. Fundraisers for education reminds of me an Akan (Ghanaian) saying “Woforo Dua Pa A” – He who climbs a good tree gets a push.
Why should anyone help finance another person’s education?
Shalisha: We can look at some of the reasons above why a degree is a worthy cause. Nonetheless, the choice to make a contribution to an education-based fundraiser is entirely up to an individual. Some decide to donate simply because they want to help which is honestly the base reason for almost all donations. A few may need some time to consider it and learn more about the purpose of the degree before supporting. Finally, there are others who will remain skeptical and resolve not to donate to an education fund. The student has to be cautious that their attempt to convince others is not pushy, especially with those who simply refuse to donate. I have friends from spectrums; those who donate and those who have not and would likely not donate at all. Once again, it is a choice one should make willingly and with joy.
Is this a sustainable approach to funding education?
Shalisha: Students will likely get support from friends, family and colleagues. One might imagine that various students may approach some of these same individuals. As long as students are innovative and have a meaningful story, this model for academic financing can work for many. This obviously means that the story about the fundraiser must be told beyond island borders with the hopes of gaining support from strangers and from those in more populated countries. While one should aim to raise as much as possible from the fundraiser, other avenues must be rigorously explored to supplement the fundraiser.
Is this a welcomed approach in the Caribbean?
Shalisha: Surprisingly, the majority of people I have spoken to expressed awe at the initiative. The feedback has been that it is creative and bold. In their admiration, a small few have somehow stated, or I can sense the fear of, “wow! But I could never do that”.
Some individuals who encourage and support such an approach would in fact hesitate to have their own campaign. They are afraid of the criticism, judgement, pull down and gossip surrounding making one’s need so public. Our society also takes serious pride in not accepting handouts so we dare not ask. I admit, I have shifted my thinking away from what seems to be rules in our society that does not take us forward. My attitude is to ask and the only outcomes are: yes, not now or no.
In my experience however, those who are against academic crowd funding is relatively small and those who won’t fundraise at all is also very small. UWI now has a crowd-sourcing platform for students. Therefore, our society will have to truly assess any negative perceptions towards this type of academic financing if we are to succeed in education financing, as this approach seems to be the only viable option now.
How will you repay or pay it forward after your studies?
Shalisha: I’m involved in a community organization and also have a registered charity. I plan to develop programmes and engage in my community in a way that mirrors my legal work. Mentorship and life development programmes and scholarships are some of the initiatives I envision creating. I want to begin my legal career in criminal law and I see it as an opportunity to work with individuals from the communities I volunteer in.
What advice would you offer to anyone who wants to crowd source his or her education?Shalisha: Let’s start from within - “The greatest fear in the world is the opinion of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion.” - Osho
I start there because while it may be an attractive initiative for some, there may still be fear. You have to be resolved in the decision and go all the way.
Start early, write a powerful story and find ways to let everyone know that you are fundraising. Do not be afraid to ask! I reached out to friends from near and far and to those with whom we have not had a real conversation in a while. You’ll learn the heartwarming truth that your friends and family want to see you achieve your goals.
Also make yourself available for interviews with the media (newspaper, radio, magazine, print, tv etc.). For months I worried about doing anything I thought would make this fundraiser a bigger deal than it is. But guess what, this is a big deal for me! And your fundraiser is a big deal for you too, it’s your dream. So have those interviews and write to businesses asking for support. Life is too damn short, don’t regret not pursuing your dream.
Do more than the fundraiser; host BBQs, dinners, sell hand-made or ready-made items. A quick online search will show you lots of smart ways to improve your campaign and to find funding elsewhere. Finally, do not give up your search for scholarships and grants. I personally believe that money for tuition is out there, it just needs to be found!
Shalisha is one of many Caribbean citizen who've opted to use crowd funding for education. You can follow her campaign here