A Librarian’s Death Left Her Life’s Work in Limbo. Here’s How It Found a New Home

How do you place a value on a free useful resource that serves low-income college students? And how do you create a enterprise mannequin to maintain that database going whereas defending the privateness of the scholars who depend on it?

EdSurge requested these questions in August 2020 in a story about a college-scholarship database created by a beloved librarian named Gail Schlachter.

Containing practically 30,000 financial-aid alternatives painstakingly researched over a number of a long time, the database that powered the Reference Service Press book-publishing firm confronted an unsure future when Schlachter died in 2015. Faithfully maintained by the librarian’s longtime good friend, the database discovered a new dwelling at an edtech startup, however the firm’s leaders weren’t certain how greatest to make use of it whereas sustaining its open-access legacy.

“Where can this thing live digitally so that it’s out of one person’s hands and in the hands of everyone?” requested Drew Magliozzi, CEO and co-founder of the startup, which is now known as Mainstay.

The EdSurge story led to a solution. After the article was revealed, leaders at corporations and philanthropies contacted Magliozzi with concepts and presents for placing the scholarship database to make use of. One company supplied six figures in money for it. A nonprofit supplied to assist Mainstay flip it into a public-facing instrument.

When leaders on the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the National Scholarship Providers Association learn the story, they realized that Schlachter’s database might enhance their joint effort to construct a web based instrument that collects and shows up-to-date information about monetary support alternatives.

“As I was reading it, I was like, ‘We’re about to add thousands and thousands of programs. If Mainstay already has this data and they’re looking for a home for it, why don’t we just bring this on board?’” says Kevin Byrne, senior director, United States, for the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “It’s just a win-win, it’s a great story, from what she’s developed over the years, and it would short-circuit our timeline to get all those programs listed.”

Called the NSPA Exchange, the instrument is out there to organizations that present scholarships, whereas different entities can request permission to make use of the information to construct their very own scholarship-search methods for college kids to make use of straight. Among the teams that use the information is College Board, which noticed 5 million folks go to its on-line scholarship search instruments in 2020.

The Dell Foundation made a proposal to Mainstay: For the symbolic sum of $100, it will “buy” the database and switch it to the National Scholarship Providers Association to gas the Exchange. Mainstay accepted.

“Ultimately we weighed all the options, and we thought about the combination of: What’s good for the business? What’s good for the database? What’s good for the world?” Magliozzi says. “In the long-term interest of doing what was right for students, getting this data out there, and keeping the legacy of what Gail had created alive, it made the most sense.”

One issue that influenced the choice was the truth that the National Scholarship Providers Association has a system for holding information in the Exchange up to date and correct—a main problem, since details about scholarship availability, eligibility standards, award quantities and software deadlines adjustments continuously.

“The maintenance of the data is as important as the data itself, and if not carefully maintained, it has a half-life,” Magliozzi says. “The real compelling thing about what Kevin pitched to us was, it’s not just a database, it’s actually a group of people that’s truly committed to making this a sustainable, ongoing and growing initiative.”

No one understands the significance of database upkeep greater than Dave Weber, the shut good friend of Schlachter who has stored her work going, largely by himself, since her dying. Under the brand new association, Weber will work as a paid marketing consultant for the National Scholarship Providers Association because it integrates the database into its Exchange.

“I’m happy about it,” Weber says. “I agree with everybody who is involved with this that this is valuable information, and I want to see it get out.”

Written into the settlement that transferred possession of the database is what Magliozzi calls the “‘don’t be icky’ clause.” It encourages organizations that use the Exchange “not leverage student data in ways that might betray their privacy or best interest,” he explains, resembling by promoting it.

“We’re giving this freely so that it can continue to be given freely,” Magliozzi says. “I would hate for students to be tricked into sharing their data and doing something that would be against their best interests while they’re searching for a way to pay for college. That would be a tremendous shame.”

Byrne seconded that sentiment.

“There’s still those scams out there that students and families are really susceptible to. That is not what we wanted this database to be,” he says. “We want it to be a high-quality, curated, really filtered list of those programs who have the students’ interest at heart.”

To that finish, leaders at Mainstay, the Dell Foundation and the National Scholarship Providers Association say they plan to watch the conduct of the organizations which have entry to the information to make sure they abide by these excessive requirements. For instance, College Board says college students who use its scholarship search instrument don’t must decide in to sharing their data for different functions or providers.

One of the methods Schlachter’s information is bettering the Exchange stems from the work the librarian did to fastidiously determine scholarships for units of people that haven’t all the time had full entry to increased schooling. That sort of personalization—which initially allowed Reference Service Press to publish books particularly for ladies, folks of shade and folks with disabilities—anticipated the way in which many individuals search for data right now: by digital search instruments that present individualized outcomes.

“The Native American data and indigenous student [data]—it’s just astronomical. We had very few of those before,” Byrne says. “Military programs and children of military service members is another area that will be completely additional.”

Additionally, the Reference Service Press database incorporates fastidiously researched scholarship alternatives that college students are unlikely to search out in the event that they solely depend on a Google search, since many support suppliers don’t have web sites—or a lot of a web based presence, says Allison Danielsen, senior director of school and profession connections at College Board.

“It’s a very hard experience to find scholarships,” says Danielsen, noting that affording faculty is a high concern for many college students. “That’s why the expansion of the database is so great: That’s what students want to see.”

For Weber, serving to to provide the database a new dwelling feels satisfying after the service he put in whereas its destiny was in limbo.

“I did it partly as a recognition of Gail Schlachter; it was almost in memory of her,” he says. “I’m glad to see this is going to get used.”

Leaders at Mainstay, the Dell Foundation and the National Scholarship Providers Association say they’re joyful to do their half to provide Schlachter’s database new life.

“It’s such a great story. How can you not feel good about all that work over the years and the impact it’s having on students?” Byrne says. “That’s a story we’re hoping to continue to share going forward.”

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