John Legend is right. Despite stagnant family incomes and the staggering increases in cost-of-living and tuition for the 20 million people enrolled in U.S. colleges, students are routinely blamed, mocked, and stigmatized for their inability to overcome tremendous financial odds. As a result, college students across the country — 50% of whom experience food or housing insecurity — rarely receive the support they need to stay in school, attain their degree, and achieve financial stability.
We started Edquity because we understand the harsh reality of today’s post-secondary landscape. It isn’t just that the three million students who drop out of college every year for less than $500 need and deserve small-dollar, incremental support to ensure they are able to find a safe roof over their head and avoid persistent hunger to get their degree. It’s also now that it has become an economic imperative for colleges to figure out how to provide such support. This is why emergency aid programs, which have grown eight-fold in the last three years, can now be found at 50% of the nation’s colleges and universities.
Today, we’re proud to announce that we’ve closed an oversubscribed $2.4 million seed financing round that will allow us to work with more of these institutions across the country, and bring our emergency cash grant and basic needs insecurity technology to the millions of college students who struggle with hunger, homelessness, and financial insecurity every day.
The announcement of our seed round comes on the heels of a transformational year at Edquity. In 2019, our staff doubled in size as we added team members like Sara Goldrick-Rab, the nation’s preeminent expert on student basic needs insecurity, to help ensure our work is grounded in best-in-class research. We also acquired BridgeEDU, a student success company founded by leading anti-poverty advocate Wes Moore, which has deepened our expertise and allowed us to ensure the technology we build is rooted in the experiences of the students we serve.
Most importantly, we successfully launched our new emergency aid technology in partnership with the Dallas County Community College District, which serves more than 90,000 students, including many who are the first in their families to attend college, are raising young children, or are working full time. Since launching, Dallas students have used the Edquity app to receive nearly $100,000 in emergency cash grants and overcome financial crises — including the recent string of tornadoes that left thousands of Dallas residents without power and many homeless. Even in the wake of the most expensive natural disaster in Dallas history, we’ve begun to prove Edquity’s ability to streamline and optimize emergency aid deployment.
Until radical policy solutions are enacted to address the structural causes of the rampant financial insecurity in college, we have no choice but to carry our 2019 momentum into 2020 and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to not just transform emergency aid, but rather to help all students achieve a manageable cost of living and mobilize their community around #RealCollege issues. And with a growing number of postsecondary institutions interested in bringing Edquity to their students, we’re confident we can begin support students on a national scale.
To do so, and to scale not just as a tech company but as a tech-enabled anti-poverty company, we must seek support from a strong team of advocates — one that shares our values, our excellence, and our unflappable stubbornness to fight for and execute on behalf of students.
That’s why we’re so fortunate to have the backing of such catalytic and mission-aligned investors who care deeply about this work. This includes the stellar teams at ECMC Foundation, who led our round (and I want to give a personal shoutout to the wonderful and brilliant Jessica Haselton, who will be joining our board), Imaginable Futures, Spring Point Partners, the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, and Michelson 20MM Foundation, as well as our existing investors at Lumina Foundation and Strada Education Network. This group of investors has not only the expertise to help us cultivate our national pipeline of college and universities but also a proven track record of ensuring that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, age, and gender identity, can achieve financial success both in and beyond college.
Additionally, I’m very proud to share that as part of this round, WGU Labs has made its first strategic investment out of its new seed fund and will be overseeing a research study to assess the impact of Edquity on the success of the Western Governors University student population in 2020. WGU Labs shares our mission of seeking to improve social mobility and educational outcomes for underserved and historically marginalized student populations, as well as our emphasis on rigorous evaluation and outcomes, and we couldn’t imagine a better strategic partner for furthering this shared mission. (They also know a thing or two about rapid growth.)
Edquity made tremendous strides in 2019 and we’re confident that our progress will continue to accelerate throughout 2020. As we roll our sleeves up and get to work, we’re always looking for new colleges, universities, and other partners to team up with to support students’ basic needs.