Program helps students pay for college by building good habits

We at Michigan Future believe that if Michigan wants to be competitive in the 21st Century knowledge-based economy, our state’s leaders need to support policies that boost the number of Michiganders who hold four-year degrees.

As my colleague Patrick Cooney pointed out in a recent blog, declining state support for public universities has led to spiraling tuition costs. And universities like Wayne State have still not recovered from a massive 15% state cut to higher education in 2011.

Education stakeholders are seeking creative ways to make college more affordable. One interesting approach is, a micro-scholarship program that rewards and reinforces student actions and habits that will lead to college success with small scholarships. Through, students can earn money for earning an “A” in a class; signing up for an accelerated course; playing a sport or running for an office in student government.

According to a 2016 New York Times article ,’s creators hope that the program will arm low-income students with both stronger college applications and money to pay for college. According to’s website, the program is designed to boost learning outcomes and student motivation by:
• Reinforcing positive behavior
• Shortening feedback loop for students
• Promoting clear and achievable goals
• Rewarding inputs, not just outputs
• Building a college-going culture

About 200 colleges and universities – including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University- are institutional partners. The amount of each micro-scholarship varies by institution, but some participants have leveraged the opportunity in a major way. According to, the average annual college scholarship earned through the program is $5,000.

This is not to say that incentives like those offered by don’t have detractors. In a Huffington Post blog, Steve Nelson – head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan – expressed skepticism about the program’s lack of financial transparency. Nelson and other critics of monetary rewards for positive academic habits worry that they could kill students’ intrinsic motivation to succeed. Others believe that monetary rewards are simply ineffective. In his book Helping Children Succeed, author Paul Tough describes Harvard economist Roland Fryer’s research about cash incentives for students. Students who were given cash incentives to read books showed almost no improvement in reading test scores.

But for students who are already motivated to succeed but lack the resources to pay for college, can be a real boon. For example, according to CNN, recent high school graduate Abby Saxastar leveraged her strong volunteer service record to raise $80,000 through, enough to cover her tuition at a private college in central Florida. is an interesting concept, and one that may help students prepare and pay for college. But ultimately, Michigan’s leaders need to take affordability off the table as a barrier to college access by reinvesting in our state’s public universities.

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