Education is a vital tool for taking control of your future. It creates knowledge, opens doors, and builds a platform for career success. Despite education’s benefits, many students are not exposed to the same opportunities and resources as students in other communities. So how can all students have access to the best education despite economic challenges and hardship?
Step Up For Students is a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to low-income and special-needs students. From kindergarten through 12th grade, students are given the opportunity to succeed at the highest levels despite economic challenges. Step Up For Students originated in Florida and has begun expanding to other U.S. states. The company is introducing innovative solutions and scholarship programs, including education savings accounts, for students of all ages to kick-start their education journey.
“Education savings accounts allow students to customize their educational path to purchase school tuition and instructional materials, curriculum, and technology products to put them all together and help them reach their educational goals,” says Jonathan Beckham, VP of technology strategy and innovation for Step Up For Students.
Helping students reach their educational goals is the Step Up For Students mission. It’s a mission that the company takes a lot of pride in delivering.
“Our customers are the families and the students that come on and get scholarships. Whether they’re low-income families or families that have special-needs children, we are always asking ourselves what can we do better or what can we do more to help out our families. That really drives our business; it’s part of our mission,” said Beckham.
Step Up For Students relies on donations from corporations with tax liability to create scholarship funds for households with median annual incomes of $26,000-$27,000. Beckham reflects on the organization’s evolution from paper applications in its early days through its new chapter of digital transformation.
“When I first started with Step Up For Students, we took paper applications. We had families sending in paper documentation and stacks of faxes,” says Beckham.
As the company’s popularity increased, operations had to be streamlined to take on the influx of applications. Step Up For Students decided to invest in digital transformation and overhaul the user experience to take the company into the 21st century.
“We now have a mobile-friendly Web application that allows applicants to apply using their mobile phones,” said Beckham.
Users now have the ability to snap a picture of important documents and quickly upload them to the app to create fast and accurate scholarship applications.
“It’s really transformed families’ lives. They don’t have to spend so much time filling out the applications. We’ve been able to get their funds to them quicker and streamline the entire process for them,” said Beckham.
In addition to using the app to quickly apply for and receive funds, another benefit of the app is the digital marketplace for school supplies called MyScholarShop.
“After they get their scholarship funds, we’re allowing them access to a digital marketplace with a guided buying program that allows students to search for high-quality products and service providers just like they would on any e-commerce site. They can then add those items to shopping carts and check out using their scholarship funds directly,” said Beckham.
The launch of the digital e-commerce platform MyScholarShop has transformed Step Up For Students’ business. Families can now submit reimbursement receipts and have them instantly vetted to determine if they are qualified purchases. This is a process that took weeks by paper.
“We have totally transformed the reimbursement process by going digital. They love it,” says Beckham.
As Step Up For Students continues to evolve, every decision is aligned to one priority: the students. This call to action echoes throughout the entire organization and fuels growth and innovation.
“We’re always thinking about the student: what can we do to make it easier for the student, what can we do to help our students learn more, what can we do to help them accelerate their growth and their educational goals?” says Beckham. “From a purpose-driven perspective, that is pervasive throughout our entire organization,” he adds.
Step Up For Students’ sole purpose is to improve the lives of students all over America. It is using technology to help this pursuit. Combined with a talented leadership team and a driven culture, this company is poised to make a significant dent in the nation’s education gap.
This year in Florida, there are over 100,000 students on the tax credit program and 10,000 students on the Gardner Scholarship program, a sponsored program to subsidize funds for families in need of educational resources for their children.
“I think it’s great that we continue to expand in Florida, but we’re looking to take this to a national level. I just think about all of those letters of gratitude that we get from families. This is transforming their lives completely. They’re just so thankful for the funding. You think about scholarships, you think about going to schools, it’s such an important thing in somebody’s life. It can impact them in ways that we don’t even understand,” says Beckham.
There is a lot of work ahead, but it will be exciting to watch Step Up For Students step up to the plate and assist in developing a diverse and vastly educated society.
Learn more about Step Up For Students and how the right technology is helping them become a better-run business.