While the student-loan crisis continues to play a prominent role in the 2016 presidential campaign—with candidates scrambling to propose ways to reduce debt and make college more affordable—one Princeton, NJ-based businessman who isn’t running for president already has a plan in place.
Bob Carr is using the wealth he created as founder and chief executive officer of Heartland Payment Systems, one of the nation’s largest processors of debit and credit card transactions, to help financially disadvantaged kids go to college and graduate debt free in four years.
What distinguishes Carr’s scholarships is that they are not designed exclusively for exceptional high school graduates who need financial assistance to get to college. Rather, his foundation targets at-risk ninth-graders—students who face considerable barriers not just financially but educationally. These are kids who may easily fall through the cracks and never realize their full potential.
“We’re targeting students who probably aren’t going to go to college because they’ve already made up their mind they won’t be able to afford it,” Carr said.
Carr’s Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF), a nonprofit organization, recently partnered with The College of New Jersey to announce a $1 million donation to help 50 low-income students attend the institution for free. He made a similar arrangement with New Jersey’s Rowan University, and donated another $3 million to the University of Delaware to support 150 students. Carr is also close to establishing a link with a college in northern New Jersey.
A key component of the Give Something Back Foundation is its mentoring program. The foundation pairs its scholars with trained adult mentors—while in high school—who help provide the strong framework needed to ensure college success.
Another big differentiator of Carr’s program (and one that could be replicated in many colleges) is that he negotiates for significant discounts on tuition and housing at the foundation’s partner colleges—allowing him to provide many more scholarships with his resources.
“We contribute in increments of $1 million to our partner colleges to pre-fund the education of our scholars, and the colleges agree to cover the ‘gap’ between financial aid (Pell and state grants) and the Give Something Back Foundation grants for 50 students,” explained Carr. “That gap, known as the Estimated Family Contribution, is a deal-breaker for many college kids and their families. Our approach allows us to finance one student’s four-year education for only $20,000.”
Carr has already invested $20 million of his own money for the program, which has been spent on scholarships or is in the bank accounts of colleges ready to fund the students enrolled in GSBF programs.
“All of our promises to kids about helping them graduate from college debt free are funded when we make that promise,” noted Carr. “This is to prevent unintended events from derailing that promise.”
In 2002 Carr donated more than $100,000 to help students in his former hometown of Lockport, IL, get to college. Four years later, he formed the Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF), which is on track to send at least 1,000 students to college for free—tuition, room and board included.
Carr has earmarked another $20 million for the program—for a total of $40 million— over the next several years to continue his mission of providing college education to students from families of moderate means. He is currently working on a book about helping young working-class people attend college without going broke.
His first book, Through the Fires: An American Business Story of Turbulence, Triumph and Giving Back (Amazon, 2014), chronicles the evolution of his Give Something Back Foundation, which began with a modest $250 scholarship he received from a local women’s club as a teen. That gift, Carr explains, served as the catalyst for his determination to assist other students in need and why he asks the scholars whose college educations he funds to some day “give back” themselves.