About to drop out, student finds innovative way to pay for college
Concord High School graduate Gabe Harley and his grandmother, 70-year-old Marianne Lundy, were out of options.
Lundy, who had raised Harley since the age of 2, had just about depleted her retirement account paying for his first two years at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.
She had retired two years earlier so she could take care of her elderly mother, who was blind and had heart problems. By the time Harley was going into his junior year, Lundy had lost her part-time job because of her lack of availability — her mother needed care almost around the clock, and she couldn't afford a live-in nurse.
Which meant they had no way of paying for the rest of Harley's college career. He has a scholarship, but it only covers part of the cost. He also works, but doesn't earn enough to make up the difference.
Tuition costs all over the country have been going up, making it hard for low-income students to afford a post-secondary education, data show. The average cost of tuition, fees, room and board for a full-time undergraduate student was $11,548 per year in 1984-5, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2014-15, it was more than double, at $25,409.
Though tuition fees have risen 226 percent since 1995, inflation has only gone up by about 55 percent. College costs have risen roughly 7 percent per year for several decades now, and no matter how much penny-pinching Harley and his grandmother do, it never seems to be enough. Harley had just about given up hope of going back to college his junior year when a friend, Austin McCabe, came up with a solution.
He told Harley he should start an online fundraising account.
"I was uncomfortable with the idea at first because asking others for money has never been a part of my human nature," Harley said. But, "if it wasn’t for (McCabe's) determination, wit and creativity, I would not be at Westminster today."
More and more college students are turning to the Internet to raise money for their education, launching online campaigns to pay for tuition and other costs, recent studies show.
GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for everything from celebrations and graduations to challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses, says education is one of the fastest growing categories on its site.
Over the last three years, more than 130,000 GoFundMe campaigns have raised $60 million from over 850,000 donations for college tuition and related expenses, according to a company report.
In Delaware, where the average cost of attending a public university is $11,935, there have been 369 college-related fundraising drives — about $158,000 have been donated to local students.
Harley has raised about $6,700, enough to pay for one semester of college. A local family, whose daughter sang with Gabe in the Wilmington Children's Chorus, paid for the second.
"We don't know if he's going back for his senior year at this point," Lundy said.
That all depends on whether or not Harley can successfully raise another $13,000.
GoFundMe recently released a new college fundraising hub, which will serve as a resource for students and make it easier to connect with students in need. The site also has a step-by-step guide for starting a fundraiser for tuition or other college expenses. (https://pages.gofundme.com/fundraiser-success-tips/college-fundraising-tips/.)
Bobby Whithorne, a spokesperson for GoFundMe, said there are donors out there who want to help college students and that all students need to do is reach out to them.
“I think the most important thing a student can do is be transparent about why they're raising funds and share their campaign on their social platforms with their friends and family," he said.
The rise in tuition-themed GoFundMe campaigns could be tied to rising higher education costs, he said.
“The cost of college is increasing and students are saddled with debt," he said. "You know they’re graduating college with a large amount of debt, so starting a GoFundMe campaign in college to either chip away at the tuition bill or pay for some of these expenses allows for students to leverage social media and tell their story about why they're raising funds, about how hard they worked.”
'Voice like an angel'
Harley was born to sing, his grandmother said.
“It’s just always been music, music, music," she said. "He knew this is where he wanted to have his future, as a choral director and educator.”
In fifth grade, Harley joined the Wilmington Children's Chorus "and fell in love with it every step of the way," he said. "Under the direction of Phil and Kim Doucette and David Christopher, they have come together to shed light upon the Delaware area with such beautiful artistry. What better way to spread joy, happiness and love than with singing?"
At Westminster, Harley is part of two of the most prestigious collegiate choral ensembles in the country: Westminster Choir and Kantorei, the early music ensemble. Though he was accepted into a 5-year program that would have allowed him to earn a bachelor's degree in music and a master's degree in teaching, he was forced to turn the invitation down because of his financial situation.
Harley's goal is to someday become a music teacher. He wants to attend graduate school and get a doctorate, though once again, money may be an obstacle.
"I have a long road ahead of me, but I truly believe I can accomplish anything as long as my determination is present," Harley said.
Susan Gregg, who lives next door to Harley's grandmother and whose daughter is good friends with him, said there is no one more deserving of financial assistance. She's known Harley for almost 10 years and used to drive him to P.S duPont Middle School.
"Voice like an angel," she said, adding that Harley held the No. 1 male position for 5 out of the 6 years he was in All State Choir. Her daughter, a flutist at the University of Miami, has performed with him in different musical groups.
"Absolutely that young man can sing," Gregg said. "He's in so many different ensembles at school it's hard to keep up with them all."