UMass students turn to crowdsourcing to pay for education expenses

By Brendan Deady

On-campus students face expenses over $24,000 a year at UMass, leading some to find alternative ways to pay for their education.
On-campus students face expenses over $24,000 a year at UMass, leading some to find alternative ways to pay for their education.

For University of Massachusetts Amherst students, the exorbitant cost of obtaining a higher education is a pressing issue. In June, the UMass Board of Trustees approved an increase of $1,459 in tuition and fees for the upcoming academic year.

The State legislature last week overrode Governor Charlie Baker’s $5.25 million cut to the UMass system on July 29, but it is still unclear how that development will affect tuition costs for the upcoming academic year. Regardless, on-campus students are faced with a tuition bill that on average exceeds $24,000.

Students have few options to pay for their education. They can seek out scholarship opportunities, receive financial aid and government loans, rely on their families to assume the brunt of their bill, or, as a last resort, sign private loans that can carry high interest rates.

However, some students at UMass are utilizing online crowdsourcing alternatives to help pay for their expenses and avoid accruing more debt. Websites like GoFundMe allow an individual to explain their circumstances to the public and request donations to reach their respective financial goals.

UMass senior Osato Egonmwam, a social thought and political economy major, created a GoFundMe page at the beginning of summer to pursue her dream of studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea.

Egonmwam is a first generation college student who lives in Lynn between semesters. She described that traveling to South Korea has been a dream of hers since she was a small child. She aspires to be a diplomat for the United States, and believes studying abroad would advance her career and open up doors of opportunity.

“This isn’t some vacation veiled as a semester abroad. This is all business for me,” Egonmwam said.

Egonmwam explained she’s exhausted all options of financial aid to pay for the semester abroad, and assistance for her family is not a possibility. She needs nearly $3,000 before Aug. 17 or she’ll be unable to make the trip.

Egonmwam is attempting to save as much as possible from her job at a department store. She has taken out government and private loans in the past but wants to avoid further accumulating debt.

“Every time I mention it, the initial response is always ‘oh take out another loan’. People are so used to the idea that they automatically give in to assuming more debt,” Egonmwam said.

Egonmwam was hesitant to expose herself to public judgement for requesting money to fund a trip abroad. She’s received some negative comments.

“We live in such an individualistic society and people expect me to present myself in a certain way,” Egonmwam said. “Instead of considering helping, they look to criticize. I’m asking for help because I need it. The response to take out loans proves how warped our view of college has become.”

She has yet to reach her goal and admits that she would concede to private loans if necessary.

For Sandra Llewellyn, it’s not a semester abroad that is out of reach, but the finish line of a collegiate stay that has been plagued by medical and emotional misfortune.

During her sophomore year Llewellyn’s mother suddenly passed away, leading to both emotional shock and the premature burden of financially supporting herself at the age of 19.

A short time later, Llewellyn was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can keep an individual bed-ridden for months at a time.

Jamie Willock, who just graduated from UMass with a degree in psychology, collaborated with a few friends and established a page for Llewellyn at the beginning of the summer. Willock first met Llewellyn through the Woman of Color Leadership Network and was drawn to her passion for social justice.

As the two formed a friendship, Willock came to appreciate Llewellyn’s dedication and affable nature even more.

“Lupus is unpredictable. At times she can’t come into the office or her classes for weeks. Then when she returns she has to play catch up and that can be really difficult when you support yourself,” Willock said.

Llewellyn’s illness and financial situation has forced her to take multiple extended leaves from UMass, according to Willock. Llewellyn originally received financial aid, but many of her awards had time limits for how long a student has to complete a degree.

Llewellyn has since passed that threshold and is now faced with living expenses, tuition, medical costs and an illness that can force her into a respite for weeks without warning.

Willock said that the group of friends who created the GoFundMe page for Llewellyn wanted to create an opportunity for her to receive some return for her generosity. The page describes Llewellyn as an embodiment of resiliency, a mentor to many, and champion of social issues.

Willock set a goal for $15,000 that would cover living, medical and educational expenses for Llewellyn as she attempts to finish her final year. A closing note states that the average cost and lost of productivity for a Lupus patient is $20,000 annually.

“GoFundMe pages for going abroad or to raise money to pay for a summer to finishes off school in time – that’s really great,” Willock said.

“I’m happy that there’s this outlet to do this crowdfunding but I felt like this is particularly important. … She’s someone who’s exhausted all of her options and anyone who’s met Sandra knows that she deserves this.”

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected]