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From the Washington Blade:
Do I hear $80,000?
Gay college student attempts to auction off his tuition on eBay
By GREG MARZULLO
Friday, November 18, 2005
EVERY COLLEGE STUDENT knows that paying for an education can be a struggle. Some lucky students don’t have to worry about financial aid because of family money. Others work hard in high school for good grades and as volunteers to win scholarships. Still others take out loans and spend the next few decades paying them back.
Then there are those who try all of the above and still don’t have the necessary dough to enroll. What’s a student to do? What about selling your tuition on eBay?
Scott Simpson, 21 (pictured right), a gay freshman public relations major at Howard University, says he ran out of options to fund his education.
“At Howard, they have a scholarship program where you apply all at once for all scholarships. For some reason, I didn’t get any,” he says. His family also isn’t in a position to help him out financially.
On Nov. 3, Simpson posted an ad on eBay, the Internet auction service, for his college expenses.
“I’m looking for someone to pick up the tab on my tuition and expenses while attending Howard University,” his auction listing reads.
For seven days, eBay users were able to bid on the $80,000 price tag, and Simpson hoped to gain the desired funds for his education. The auction brought about paltry sums.
“I only got 50 cent bids,” he says.
ALTHOUGH COPING WITH limited funds is usually part and parcel of the college experience, gay students can have a particularly difficult time accessing money.
“Unfortunately a lot of [gay] young people lose the support of their families,” says Vance Lancaster, executive director for The Point Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered college students.
The Point Foundation is in its fourth academic year of providing cash for classes. After starting off with eight scholarship recipients, the organization recently gave out 50 new and continuing awards to students.
“Last year we had 2,200 young people apply for scholarships,” says Lancaster. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg. That’s just the young people who have heard about us.”
Though the Foundation awards average scholarships of $12,000, each student becomes a $35,000 per year investment. Aside from giving money for college fees, the organization funds a mentoring program and an annual leadership academy.
UNLIKE other foundation applicants, Simpson doesn’t have the emotional stress of family discord on account of being gay. He doesn’t live with his parents or rely on them for money, but he says they accept his sexual orientation.
Once out of high school, Simpson moved from Ohio to D.C. to volunteer with Americorps, a group that sends its members to work at non-profit organizations that benefit at-risk youth, environmental groups and faith-based organizations, among others.
Simpson decided to wait to begin college until a few years after high school, because he says he didn’t know what he wanted to study. He has an extensive volunteer history with HIV prevention and advocacy organizations in both Ohio and D.C., including work with the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, a local group that helps young gays.
“I’ve realized in looking back at all the work I’ve done, there was always a gap of how do we engage the media, how do we relate to the public,” he says. “[Public relations] sort of became a natural.”
After graduating from college, Simpson hopes to continue working in gay- and HIV-related fields.
With Americorps, Simpson worked as an HIV test and HIV prevention counselor. He currently volunteers as the co-chair of Capital Area AIDS Vaccine Effort, an organization that reviews vaccine trial research and does community outreach and education about HIV and AIDS vaccine issues. He says he also works 25-30 hours per week as an administrative assistant at New Ventures in Philanthropy, a company whose goal is to increase philanthropic giving nationwide.
SIMPSON’S VOLUNTEER AND leadership work has not been helpful in procuring scholarships and Simpson now characterizes his financial situation as desperate.
Simpson says he doesn’t have any personal credit history to make private loans a viable option. He received some federally funded student loans that only amounted to $2,000.
Howard University’s director of financial aid, Steven L. Johnson, says that there aren’t any safety nets for students who have exhausted all aid options.
“The responsibility rests primarily with the student,” he says.
On the eBay ad, Simpson tells his prospective bidders, “I’ll pretty much do whatever you want. Let’s talk.”
“That means I’ll keep this open,” he says. “Somebody might have expectations of me. A 3.5 GPA, work for [them], giving updates. I’m not doing anything illegal. I’m not going to sell myself. I want to give my donor the widest range of latitude.”