Crowdfunding college last-ditch effort for Clemson-bound
By GEORGIE SILVAROLE
Jun. 18, 2017
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Bob Cron's going to do whatever it takes to get his son to Clemson University. Literally.
"I may end up delivering pizzas at night to help pay for it," Cron said. "We're going to do whatever we have to do."
Cron's 19-year-old son, Dalton, is headed to ClemsonLIFE at the end of August. And on May 31, a family friend launched a GoFundMe campaign with a lofty goal of $100,000 to help him get there.
Crowdfunding is quickly becoming an alternative approach to rising tuition costs. According to a GoFundMe guidebook released in February, more than 130,000 campaigns have been created since 2014 to raise money via the online platform for college expenses, and those campaigns have raised more than $60 million from more than 850,000 donors.
In South Carolina alone, there's been 1,831 campaigns to fund college tuition and related expenses since 2014, which have raised more than $767,000 from 13,774 donations.
For people like the Cron family, it's sort of a Hail Mary. The $2,260 raised as of Thursday afternoon is a drop in the bucket, but at least it's something, Cron said.
"It's about $42,000 a year," Cron said. "I never want to tell him he can't do something."
Richard Ritzman, director of financial aid at Clemson, said the school tries to provide prospective students with the best package right off the bat. They'll examine a student's needs and resources and put the best offer out at the start, he said.
For in-state students, a year at Clemson as an undergraduate will cost around $25,000. For out-of-state students, that number nearly doubles, coming out to be approximately $45,000.
ClemsonLIFE is equally expensive, with tuition, housing, meal plans and other associated costs starting at around $20,000, depending on which options and plans are chosen by the student. ClemsonLIFE is a two-year program designed to help students with intellectual disabilities master life skills and learn to live on their own and be self-sufficient.
There are several state and federal options, notably South Carolina's merit-based awards given through the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship and LIFE Scholarship, he said. They are $6,700 and $5,000 awards, respectively, given to incoming freshman from South Carolina who meet certain academic requirements.
There are 880 Palmetto fellows and 1109 LIFE scholars in Clemson's incoming freshman class, Ritzman said. 65 percent of that same incoming class showed a "financial need," meaning their expected family contribution was less than the cost of attendance.
Those numbers are determined by information filed by the student in their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and Clemson's financial aid office will work to provide students with the most aid they can, Ritzman said.
"What we've awarded is basically the best package we can give them," Ritzman said. "Anything they're eligible for, we'll put together in a package for them."
But when they're creating that ideal package, they have to take every resource a student has into account — including online fundraising efforts.
"I think you're seeing more of alternative means of trying to finance college," Ritzman said. "We try not to look for things like that because, technically, if we see that we have to take that into consideration — that's a resource the student is getting."
He said he hasn't personally had to alter an offer after coming across a student's online GoFundMe page, but some of his colleagues and friends at other institutions have. Families need to be careful about the timing and the publicizing of their digital fundraising efforts, he added.
"It's falling more and more on the family to have to cover those additional costs as they come, so they're looking at alternative methods of financing those," Ritzman said. "In many cases we don't want to know that they're doing things like that, but yes, we understand that is happening."
For the Cron family — who live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — it's a last-ditch effort to raise anything they can. Over the past 14 years, Cron said they've spent around $80,000 on their son's primary, private-school education simply because they believed it was the only education he'd be getting.
Bob Cron and his wife, Laura, had no idea their son would be born with an intellectual disability. Minutes after Dalton's birth, doctors said he had "characteristics of Down Syndrome," and they felt all of their plans and dreams of what their family would be crumble around them.
"At that time, there was very little (information on Down Syndrome) out there," Cron said. "It was all doom and gloom."
They never believed he would live a normal life, much less have the chance at going to college. It seemed foolish to put aside money for something that would never even happen.
"He wasn't supposed to go to college. Twenty years ago when he was born, that wasn't a possibility," Cron said. "We didn't prepare for any college or future because there wasn't any — there wasn't college in his future. So you don't save because there isn't a next step."
For the past two decades, people have been sending the Crons any and every article and pamphlet they find that mentions Down Syndrome. But one particular brochure on a program called ClemsonLIFE seemed to be much different than the rest.
They visited Clemson in 2014 and fell in love, crying on the way home after beginning to understand something they never thought was possible was actually very, very real. Dalton Cron applied and was accepted into the program this past spring.
"The one that was never supposed to go to college is the first to go to college," Bob Cron said. "He's going to be the first Cron male to go to college."
There are several campaigns benefiting various Clemson-bound students on GoFundMe's website. Some are asking for help with housing costs or assistance with books and supplies. Most of them detail the student's excitement about going to Clemson as well as their discomfort with the associated price tag.
Bob Cron's not thrilled about the price tag either, but he's determined to take advantage of any opportunity to help his son.
"This thing happened for a reason. We honestly believe that we haven't come this far to be stopped by a GoFundMe account," Cron said. "We're not sure how we're going to handle it, but we're going to make it happen."