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About Us

Our Motivation

Every year millions of Americans start college, but about half will never finish. The evidence is clear: money matters, and when money runs out, it’s hard to stay in school.

The FAST Fund delivers money quickly when students face emergencies. We aim to help students just in time, reducing or eliminating their financial challenges so that they can focus on learning.

College professors have done this work for years, reaching into their own pockets to offer their students help when they need it.  Students appreciate this signal of support; it means a lot when the help comes from a teacher who cares. But these days many professors are deeply underpaid and need our help.

That’s where the FAST Fund comes in.  We make grants to faculty, and they distribute the money direct to students. No paperwork, no waiting—emergency aid done right.

Read more about us in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, and the  AFT Newsletter.

Our Team

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Founder

Sara Goldrick-RabDr. Sara Goldrick-Rab is Professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology at Temple University. She is a scholar-activist who has devoted her career to identifying effective ways to help more people finish college.  Find her on twitter @saragoldrickrab.

Board of Directors
Believe in Students, Foundation
Believe in StudentsThe FAST Fund is operated by Believe in Students, Inc., a 501(c)(3) based in Philadelphia.

Our story

The FAST Fund began in 2016 with the publication of Sara Goldrick-Rab’s book, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. Documenting in painstaking detail the high price that students and their families are paying for college, many landing in debt with nothing to show for it, Paying the Price was a call to action.

Sara developed several responses.  She investigated ways to lower the price of college, founding both the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. She formulated and coordinated policy responses and political actions, even helping to shape a federal call for making college free.  And she began walking the talk, pouring her earnings into the FAST Fund.

Book royalties, speaking fees, other honoraria, and eventually prizes garnered for Paying the Price helped Sara get the FAST Fund off the ground. But it took a national village to grow and sustain it.  When the Grawemeyer Award in Education was bestowed on the book in 2017, Sara donated the $100,000 prize via a matching campaign. In just one month, hundreds of people from around the nation contributed, raising another $33,000.  The Philadelphia Inquirer covered the campaign, while the Philadelphia Magazine gave Sara a prize for “Best Use of a Windfall.”  Clearly, actions speak louder than words, and acting with hope is a strategy.

The first FAST Fund site is in Milwaukee, where much of the research for Paying the Price took place. Former economics professor and union leader Michael Rosen led an effort to grow the initial $5,000 donation from the FAST Fund to Milwaukee Area Technical College into something much larger. He was struck by how much need he saw.

“The need was eye-opening, even though I worked there and knew there were large numbers of students who were impoverished.” – Michael Rosen

Enlisting the help of his colleagues, Michael grew the pool of local donors, held multiple parties and other fundraisers, and expanded the Local 212 FAST Fund into a sustainable operation distributing more than $30,000 per year.

Recognizing the power of the union in that effort, Michael then supported the FAST Fund in growing nationally by forming a new partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In 2018, for the first time the AFT worked with the FAST Fund to solicit applications from its locals, who promised to build a program using matching seed dollars. Four of the six new FAST Funds starting in fall 2018 are AFT locals.

The FAST Fund won’t last forever. In fact, it’s not meant to.  Emergency aid is a quick-fix to a systemic problem, a massive failure caused by the new economics of college.  Ours is a “both/and” approach—we are committed to changing policy and practice while also distributing band-aids to those hurting right now. We hope that by helping more students finish their degrees we will help create the generation of people who will rebuild American higher education.