From soliciting funds online to selling parts of their bodies, students these days are exploring a wide variety of options in trying to pay off their college debt.
Turning to the World Wide Web
Kelli Space graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in sociology—and a whopping $200,000 worth of debt.
Space, an office manager with a technology company in New York, knew she couldn’t pay off those loans without considerable help. Mostly as a joke this past May, Space and one of her friends set up twohundredthou.com on Tumblr for $9.
As the site started to get publicity, the donations started rolling in. But with the donations also came a wave of criticism. Space says she’s received emails chastising her for shirking her responsibility, and suggesting she just “kill herself.” To date, Space has received about $8,500 in donations, which amounts to about 4 percent of her student loans.
Space says she doesn’t totally regret her college experience. “Do I regret my personal situation? I could have done a lot of things differently. I had the college dream in my head, which wasn’t necessary or affordable. I thought it was a great experience—but not worth $200,000.”
In 2008, grad school alums Henner and Lilac Mohr decided to start a website, now sponsormydegree.com, which allows any student to create a profile to solicit donations to pay off college debt.
Thousands of students from across the country participate in Sponsormydegree.com, according to Mohr, who now runs the site full-time. Mohr maintains that there is a rigorous vetting process in order to ensure that students actually are in need of funds to pay for college costs.
The Mohrs says the largest donation they’ve received personally is $5,000; the homepage shows students who have received thousands of dollars a piece in sponsorships.
Eggs for Sale
On college campuses, you don’t need to look very hard to find the advertisements at colleges across the nation; fertility clinics seeking egg donors are offering thousands of dollars in compensation. Ivy league eggs are at a premium, often earning donors extra cash.
The websiteElitedonors.comoffers compensation of up to $80,000 to a donor “who is attending or has graduated from a top-ten, four-year college,” among other criteria.
Miracle Baby Donor, an egg donor assistance agency based in Burlingame, California, currently advertises in Cornell University’s daily newspaper.
Generally, the clinics offer $6,000-$10,000 in compensation to donors, along with reimbursement of valid expenses—a heavy chunk of change for college students who are tight on cash. The current donordatabase on Miracle Baby Donor is comprised almost exclusively of students in school.
Eggs aren’t the only thing students can sell for some extra money.
One student, who declined to be named, donated plasma twice a week while a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
Two two-and-half hour sessions brought in $60 a week.
"You can bring magazines or textbooks to study," says the student. “A bunch of my friends went as well for the extra money.”
Harvard’s Health Services website advises students that “although egg donation may look like an easy way to get some cash and help an infertile woman, it also carries risks. Many reputable websites only review the risks for women who have infertility problems.”
Plasma donation, while less risky, carries similar risks to blood donation, and anyone with special nutrition needs should consult their doctor.
Some public service outfits—such as the Peace Corps—offer a percentage of loan forgiveness after a certain period of service. If a student joins the Peace Corps, they can get up to 70 percent of their federal loans forgiven after four years of service.
Students who participate in Teach for America, a subsidiary of AmeriCorps, work for two years as teachers in low-income areas. For their two years of service, corps members will receive an education award of over $10,000, which can be put toward student loans.
Perhaps the best ways to avoid ensnarement in the loan-repayment trap is not to incur any debt in the first place,
There are more than a dozen schools in the U.S. that are completely tuition-free for accepted students.
Many of the schools are religious, most require academic aptitude, and some even require military service. Free tuition often requires demonstrated financial need, a big commitment, and in some cases, a lot of hard work.
College of the Ozarks, a.k.a. “Hard Work U”, is in the small town of Point Lookout, Mo. The college, founded at the beginning of the twentieth century to provide education to the citizens of the Ozark region, has developed into a completely tuition-free college, where students participate in a mandatory work-study program in lieu of paying for school.
Students must work 15 hours a week and two forty-hour weeks at the college, and can end up with job placements as varied as the dining hall or the dairy farm. But 90 percent of the graduates are debt free, having worked off their $16,900-a-year tuition and other costs.
Those who do wund up with debt, on average, graduate with $5,000 or less according to the college, which adds it is usually associated with housing costs and/or living expenses.
Other tuition-free schools accept students based completely on merit—Cooper Union in New York City is one—or require military service—such as the academies in Annapolis and West Point.