The PEF pathway: A tech-enabled action-study program that helps low-income students overcome barriers to equity in education while learning the power of community engagement
Meeting the urgency of the moment, PIPs Education Fund (PEF), a New York State 501(c)(3) organization, developed a mobile platform—the PIPs RewardsTM App (PIPs App)—to power an innovative action-study program called PIPs for School (P4S).
Students participating in P4S programs get special access to the PIPs App. The app offers them multiple “touch points” through which personal responsibility—whether it’s biking, recycling, volunteering, or helping out in one’s home or neighborhood—is recognized and rewarded with Positive Impact Points (PIPs) that can be saved up and converted into grants for school.
Since Fall 2017, thousands of university students in Colorado have been helping us to develop the PIPs app and the P4S program. The students have taken over 400,000 positive actions, unlocked over $100,000 in scholarship grants, and re-enrolled at a rate 5% higher than their class. As an added benefit, many actions reduce carbon emissions, resulting in 560,000 pounds of carbon being saved.
In June 2021, PEF launched PIPs for School (P4S) Scholars, a targeted intervention exclusively for students with financial need. To be eligible, Scholars must be in college or be a college-bound high school junior or senior.
Scholars have 12 months to earn up to 100,000 PIPs — equal to $1,000 in grants that are paid directly to their school accounts — and can renew for consecutive years, as long as they are enrolled in a college, university, or trade school.
The national program is implemented in partnership with local Host Partners, community-based organizations that help to identify eligible students as well as community-based actions for which PIPs can be earned.
If a Scholar is in high school and/or not currently enrolled at a post-secondary institution, PIPs earned will be saved until they are. Grants are made directly to school, deposited in student’s account, and available to be used for a range of expenses including laptops and software, housing and dining, books and supplies, and school fees.
Here’s more information about P4S Scholars.
Changing students’ lives
Recent research is showing that PIPs’ unique program is able to maintain student engagement, motivate behavior change, and foster in students a sense of agency and responsibility to the world around them.
As one of our Scholars, an Economics and Business Major at Queens College in Flushing, NY, observes, “When you become conscious of what you are doing [and] the impact it has, it motivates you to keep on doing it.” Then, as with regular exercise or a good diet, a Nursing Major at Long Island University explains, “muscle memory” kicks in, and “you just do it, without thinking. … It becomes second nature.”
The Scholars’ observations are backed up by survey findings of our Colorado users. When asked whether they believe that engagement with PIPs made them more aware of the importance of their actions in the world around them, 78% of survey respondents said that they either strongly agree or agree.
PIPs is about developing skills, being more open, being more aware that there are problems in the world and [that] we have the power to change things.
When you become conscious of what you are doing, the impact it has, it motivates you to keep on doing it.
I learned to bike so I could earn more PIPs for PIPs for School.
We love how PIPs not only encourages good personal and community-minded behaviors, but also helps young people stay in school, which is the key to their getting good jobs and paying it all forward as leaders in their community.
We are very concerned with keeping college affordable. We are also concerned with the financial wellness of students. When PIPs was presented to us, it aligned with our goals on many fronts.
Adding the scholarship component knits together the whole endeavor of points-for-good in the higher education sector. The agency it gives students is appealing, and it should be attractive to individual donors and foundations who want to support scholarships and the kinds of “goods” that PIPs rewards.
It’s great to be able to help pay for my education with points I earned for taking carbon-footprint-reducing actions.
The PIPs Education Fund (PEF) is a New York State 501(c)(3) whose charitable purpose is to help bridge the education equity gap by turning student engagement in personal, community and planetary action into financial support for school.
PEF owns PIPs Rewards LLC which operates the PIPs mobile engagement platform. Fundamentally an action motivation and tracking platform, the App utilizes time-tested behavioral strategies – a rewards currency (Positive Impact Points or PIPs) and games – to continuously drive verifiable engagement in positive impact actions, including those that help advance progress toward the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).