RACINE — Unlike many college freshman-to-be, Josh Mioduszewski knows what he wants to do. Before even finishing kindergarten, he knew he wanted to fly.
After graduating with a 4.2 GPA from The REAL School in spring 2019, Mioduszewski was accepted at five Midwest colleges with programs that would help him achieve his dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot. No state colleges, however, offered what he needed. In July, the 18-year-old committed to attend Ohio State University.
But after receiving a little more than $4,700 in financial aid, Mioduszewski is still almost $18,000 short of paying for his first semester at OSU. He’s been forced to take a gap year, during which he plans on finding a job and is applying for as many scholarships as possible, also while taking flight classes at Racine’s Batten International Airport.
If Mioduszewski worked 40 hours a week for 13 weeks (the typical length of a summer job) and was paid $10 an hour, he’d only earn $5,200 in total; that’s less than a third of a semester’s tuition at Ohio State, and doesn’t account for other expenses like room and board.
Mioduszewski’s parents, a trucker and a closed-captioning typist, will be working extra hours to help their only child fulfill his dream.
“We weren’t exactly sure what we were dealing with at all … I didn’t expect to have to pay $30,000-$40,000 as a freshman,” admitted Mioduszewski. “Every bit of money counts toward this.”
That’s why he made a GoFundMe in July with a $30,000 fundraising goal.
“My family is middle-income and cannot afford this astronomical amount of money so I decided to raise the money myself,” he wrote in the description of his GoFundMe online fundraiser. “Flying has always been my light at the end of the tunnel … this is an opportunity that I cannot miss and I’ll do everything in my power to achieve my dream.”
That kind of mindset is something that people who work in college admissions like to see.
“College is an investment. It’s not necessarily choosing the school that is cheap,” advised Ashley Hanson, Carthage College’s associate vice president of admissions. It’s about finding “the return on investment,” Hanson said.
Like Mioduszewski, Veronica Jutley knows what she wants to do. After graduating from Case High School in 2018, she made a GoFundMe to help pay for her pre-medical studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Her fundraiser was somewhat successful, raising $1,000 of her $1,500 goal.
After finishing her freshman year at Parkside, Jutley, 19, has spent this summer working two jobs, as a certified nursing assistant at a local nursing home and at St. Catherine’s Medical Center in Kenosha. During the school year, she plans on working at those jobs a couple times a week to help make ends meet, in addition to shouldering federal student loans.
“I have to balance between school and work, and also balance at-home responsibilities,” said Jutley, who was named to Parkside’s dean’s list last semester.
For students who qualify for financial aid at public four-year colleges — like Mioduszewski and Jutley and 85% of students nationwide, according to NCES — the average unmet need (i.e. the difference between financial aid and the cost of the school) at UW schools has been over $6,100 per year since 2011. That’s actually a smaller gap than the national average of approximately $9,100 per year, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy.
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At graduation in 2018, the average student loan debt of bachelor’s degree recipients in the UW System was $30,784. In 1992, the average was $7,940 — adjusted for inflation, that’s still only $14,350 in today’s dollars, meaning that the average actual debt has at least doubled in the past 27 years.
“We’re required by federal law to offer them (students) the maximum they can in loans, even if they don’t need to,” explained Parkside Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid Kristina Klemens, who pointed out that 30% of Parkside grads finish school with zero debt.
“Loans are not a ‘bad term,’ as long as you manage them properly,” added Hanson. “Families don’t simply write a check out for the remaining balance (of college tuition). Most families will not usually pay a lump sum; they’re paying one semester at a time or taking a small loan.”
Almost two decades ago when Scott Greuel entered the workforce, the idea of becoming a low voltage technician really appealed to him.
Fundraising woes and wins
On GoFundMe’s website, there are more than 100,000 yearly fundraisers in the education category alone — ranging in objectives from helping a young person pay for college (as Jutley did and Mioduszewski is doing) to schoolteachers struggling to stock their classrooms with necessary supplies.
Cumulatively, education GoFundMe campaigns receive more than $70 million in donations per year, according to the crowdfunding website.
“Education is one of our fastest-growing categories,” said Heidi Hagberg, communications manager for GoFundMe. “A lot of people are turning to GoFundMe to close that tuition gap.”
Some campaigns make a big splash.
- Gaju Gatera, a Rwanda native, has received more than $11,000 since April to help pay for her final semester at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, with anonymous donors making many of the donations.
- Morgan Self, a Texan who lost her mother to breast cancer as a teenager, raised $21,000 in a little more than a month to cover academic expenses, allowing her to start attending Agnes Scott College in Atlanta. Again, thousands of dollars came from anonymous supporters.
- Nilu Umarova, a Tajikistan native who graduated from Menomonie High School in May 2018, was able to return to the U.S. in part thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that raised nearly $1,750 last year. That money, in addition to a merit-based international student scholarship, closed the gap Umarova needed to pay for her first semester at UW-Stout.
“I am living my American dream right now,” Umarova told the UW-Stout News Bureau last November. “I love and enjoy every moment of it.”
Despite those eye-catching totals, the average amount raised per campaign is still less than $1,000.
Without a heart-wrenching tale, Mioduszewski’s GoFundMe campaign doesn’t stand much of a chance of making a dent in his college costs. After the first two weeks, no one donated.