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Duke alum helps students crowdsource for college funds

A Duke alum has created a venture to help students raise money for college.

Andrew Wilkinson, Pratt ’08, is the executive director and co-founder of StudentDonate.com, a nonprofit that gives college students a platform to crowdsource micro-donations to help them afford tuition, books and other school expenses. Students create profiles on the website with information such as their school, academic interests and future plans, and donors from around the world choose how much money they would like to give to a particular student.

Wilkinson was inspired to start the nonprofit after a conversation with a friend who worked as a teacher. His friend loved his job but was thinking of quitting due to his struggles to pay off thousands of dollars in student loans.

“Everyone has some sort of social cause to care about,” said Wilkinson, who launched the website in 2012 and currently works fulltime at a technology startup in Los Angeles. “This is just how I give back to the community.”

Student Donate is run entirely by volunteers and gives all of the donations directly to the students. To recruit his team of volunteers, Wilkinson relied on skills he honed at Duke.

“At Duke, nothing’s ever by yourself—you can’t be an expert in everything,” he said. “Interactions with classmates prepared me to recruit a team of individuals, which is especially important in nonprofit. You’re not really paying them, so you have to be a really good convincer.”

Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics, said Student Donate’s nontraditional method of garnering money for college is fitting, given recent increases in tuition.

“A crowdsourced merit scholarship program is the way I would describe it,” Vigdor said. “Ordinarily with a merit scholarship, you apply, and the application is judged by a panel of experts. But this is turning that model on its head—you make a case for yourself and see what happens.”

To date, Student Donate has helped about 150 students, with some receiving a few hundred dollars and others getting thousands, Wilkinson said. He noted that the website is especially popular in Los Angeles—where he lives—but students from all over the world have benefitted, including some at Duke.

“It’s a cool concept,” said senior Alyssa Fowers, who received a donation a few weeks after creating her profile on the website. “It can really help students out.” Over the past generation, college costs have been increasing more quickly than inflation has been occurring, Vigdor noted. According to Student Donate, student debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2011.

“As college costs go up, we can expect people to be innovative,” Vigdor said. “I imagine we’ll see more things like [Student Donate].”

But Wilkinson’s motivation is focused more on students’ stories than on financial technicalities.

“Everyone wants to start the next Facebook and get rich… money is nice, but it’s not everything,” Wilkinson said. “Social entrepreneurship is worthwhile, too.”


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