How students have become online beggars

A Web site called SponsorMyDegree.com tries to bring students together with those who might contribute money. But can you ever really trust a student?

There's only one thing I know about students. There are too many of them.

The dominance of online practices over the traditional analog methods has meant that, truly, we need fewer people to make the commercial world spin around.

Machines can now do the work of thousands of interns. We therefore need fewer students to emerge from the college system, students who believe that they have talents given by God, when in fact they're not even all that good at beer pong.

These thoughts enter my head because of the existence of a site called SponsorMyDegree.com. This worthy enterprise has been created in order to bring together those who wish to gain degrees and those who have actually earned, inherited, or stolen money.

Perhaps you are familiar with some of these student types. They seem to delight in boasting about how many shots they can down before entering a coma. They seem to care little about most things, save for some vaguely self-centered notion about the Earth needing to be saved.

And yet SponsorMyDegree.com declares on its home page that it "makes it possible for students to get free money for college."

This seems so fundamentally un-American. I was not educated in the American college system, but I had always assumed that the very purpose of American education was to put as many people as possible into debt, so that they become servile corporate functionaries in order to finally break even on their lives.

A profile from SponsorMyDegree.com Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

If students are suddenly to be offered free money by strangers, is this not the equivalent of giving your money to a street person who you know will only go and spend it on tequila?

SponsorMyDegree.com was started in 2008 by a man called Henner Mohr and his wife, Lilac. He admitted to the Daily Camera: "We haven't gotten any crazy donations."

Which is surely a relief to all of those who believe that every lunch must be payed for. The largest donation, indeed, has reportedly been $150.

However, there is something strangely fascinating about wading through some of the profiles on this site and wondering just how similar an experience this might be to, say, online dating. So many of the people posting their profiles seem endearing human beings who, for one reason or another, need money.

Take Gregoire, from Augusta, Ga., who writes: " I hate not having the things I want, but it's even worse when I don't even get the things I need. I need help for college. I'm in this all alone, please help me."

Gregoire's whole profile is a litany of sadness. How could one not give him some money?

And yet, there's that authenticity gap that the Web has created. Are these people real? Are they for real?

Curiously, the Mohrs make the whole thing sound like Facebook. You know, marketing under the guise of humanity.

Take this from their site: "Henner and Lilac believe that the SponsorMyDegree.com website will change the targeted online marketing industry by allowing companies to strike a deal with students where the students receive micro-sponsorships towards their educations in exchange for paying attention to the advertiser's message."

So this is just another advertising play? But wait, there is some essence of order in this cyberbegging.

"An important differentiating factor for SponsorMyDegree.com is the fact that students can not withdraw any money until their enrollment in a higher education institution is verified," says the Web site.

And yet, as one wanders through the site, one finds Cassidi, who admits that she applying to "insanely expensive schools" because she wants to study musical theater. She declares that she has an income of "$30-60K." And she describes herself as "HARDWORKING, RUNNING, JOGGING, CHARISMATIC, VIRGIN."

You did, indeed, read that right.

I am sure that SponsorMyDegree.com fulfills some kind of vast societal need. It's just that the more one reads these stories, the more one wonders whether sadness, desperation, despair, and sympathy for virginity are the best emotions to elicit money from people these days.

There are tales of students who are in debt, without medical insurance and concerned that their wisdom teeth are coming through. There are tales of students who come from large families and "somehow fell short when it comes to affording my education." These may well be very, very real.

But there's this tiny pine needle in my sock. I waded through quite a few profiles. Not one offered, should the student achieve great and wondrous things, to pay any of the donated money back.

 

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