Emily Stutz always wanted to go to college and become a doctor. She just never thought she would need to resort to fund-raising for help with tuition.
But with her parents in financial turmoil and only $1,000 saved from baby-sitting and other odd jobs, the Lowell High School senior sat down at her computer last month and made a public appeal for donations on the crowdfunding website gofundme.com.
“My parents have had immense financial struggles and simply cannot come up with $20,000-$30,000 a year, nor are they able to co-sign a loan for me,” she wrote.
“I have no other adults in my life who are able to co-sign and I am at a loss. I see my dream of becoming a doctor slip further and further away as the days pass by so I’ve decided I am going to do whatever it will take to get myself to college.”
When she checked the site the next morning, she was stunned. She had already received $800. Sensing momentum, she went to a busy shopping mall in Lowell and panhandled for parts of two days last month, raising another $600.
That was just the beginning. In less than a month, she raised $24,170, with 474 donating.
She’s decided not to go far for college. She’ll continue to live at home and will commute to the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
The $24,170 she raised will pay for about two years of tuition.
Stutz, stunned by the outpouring of support, said she hopes her campaign will bring more attention to rising college costs.
“I just wanted people to realize that there are kids out there who are forced to choose between submerging themselves in debt or not going to school,” said Stutz, 18, who was accepted by seven colleges.
“She’s a good kid; she’s a victim of my bad finances,” explained her father, Han Stutz. Stutz and his wife, Katheryn, are special education teachers in Lowell’s public schools, with a combined salary of about $140,000 a year.
But because they are still paying off their own college loans and have other debt, the couple recently told their daughter they could not cosign her loans.
“I’m proud of her, because in the last week she has shed more light on the whole paying-for-college crisis than anyone I can think of,” said Han Stutz. The couple has two other children, ages 10 and 8.
Emily Stutz has been a standout high school student, with a 4.0 grade point average. She was named to the National Honor Society, was captain of the swimming team, and worked with her art teacher, Katy Sheridan, to film and edit public service videos about the dangers of opioids.
After she learned about her parents’ finances, Emily Stutz went to Sheridan for advice.
“She came into my classroom and burst into tears, and I told her, ‘It’s going to work out,’ ” Sheridan recalled. “She’s a kid that needs to go to college. She’s a kid who needs to be a leader in this country.’’
According to the Institute for College Access & Success, Massachusetts college graduates in 2014 had an average debt of more than $29,000.
Without factoring in financial aid, the total cost of four-year private colleges rose 84 percent over the 15-year span that ended with the 2014-15 school year, according to government statistics.
“I learned that if you have something that you stand for and believe in, you have to go out there and do what it takes,” Emily Stutz said.