Students find alternative ways to make money
USF students sell hair, eggs and plasma to earn money in the economic downturn.
Published: Monday, February 23, 2009
Updated: Monday, February 23, 2009 02:02
College students in need of money have turned to research participation and donations of plasma, eggs and hair in tough financial times, but professionals warn against donating for purely monetary reasons.
Catherine Jahrsdorfer, director of clinical services at USF, said compensation shouldn't be the first thing on a volunteer's mind.
"The risk, (charitable) benefits, time and commitment should be considered before anything," she said.
Many research studies range in length, potential complications and pay. According to the Office of Clinical Studies, some studies don't pay at all. Instead, they may feed participants or compensate them for parking costs or other fees incurred.
Jahrsdorfer said compensation rates aren't printed on any research pamphlets or other literature. She doesn't want money to cloud a volunteers' judgment when it comes to deciding whether they should participate in certain studies.
"Ideally, we like people to participate for altruistic reasons," she said.
Medical donations come at a price, and students who donate for reasons other than money are usually preferred.
Tampa's Reproductive Medicine Group (RMG) compensates egg donors with a flat rate of $3,000 at the completion of the process.
"We do have donors that are college students," said Laura Patch, master of public health at RMG.
Patch said the donors at her institution are compensated for their time rather than the eggs themselves.
Patch also prefers altruistic donations.
"They feel great having helped another couple (have a child)," she said of such donors.
With advertisements for other clinics promising women as much as $20,000 for their eggs, the RMG chooses pays less because it is compensating donors for their time and not their DNA.
"I can tell you that if money is the primary motivation for a young woman, this isn't the process for her," she said of egg donation.
Although the process can be lucrative, it takes time and effort.
"For the screening process, I do a brief phone screen and there's a 20-page application. We have her have a physical exam with the doctor," she said. "Once matched (with a recipient), we stimulate her eggs — she is giving herself injections every day. It averages about six months."
Plasma donations are also popular among college students.
Plasma donors must go through a medical history screening and testing for transmissible diseases before their plasma can be used for plasma protein therapies, including therapy for burn victims and organ transplant patients, said Christine Wilhem, a medical receptionist at DCI Biologicals.
She said DCI donors are given $15 to $25 for plasma donations. Plasma containing special antibodies may increase compensation — for which many students qualify.
"If you have the Hepatitis B shot, you get an extra $15 — and USF already requires their students to have this," she said.
Wilhem also said anyone who has received the anthrax shot, usually from the military, can earn $100 extra per donation. However, after their eighth donation, they must wait a few months to donate again.
Although plasma donations are generally viewed as safe, the FDA lists nausea, vomiting and light-headedness as some of the process's possible side effects.
Students may also turn to selling hair, a less invasive donation.
Marlys Fladeland of hairwork.com said selling hair can generate a large amount of money for those with at least 10 inches to spare.
"The highest I've seen hair sold for is $3,200," she said.
On Fladeland's Web site, sellers pay a $20 fee to post their hair information and the amount they want to earn. She said a seller hitting the $1,000 mark is rare, and in order to sell at a high price, the hair must be high quality.
Hair that is straight, silky and virgin (not chemically treated) sells for the highest price.
"It depends on what the buyer is looking for. Red is a high-price color — it's like a dying breed" Fladeland said.
Studies offering monetary compensation at USF also draw students.
Manny Mayor, a recent USF graduate, participated in a four-year study for the last year and a half with the Moffitt Cancer Center. He learned about an HPV study after a representative from Moffitt visited one of his classes looking for healthy participants.
Mayor said he thought of it like a free exam — as though Moffitt was paying him to make sure everything was all right.
At first, Mayor said his experience was less than comfortable. Now he's so comfortable with the process he has tried to persuade friends to join.
He enjoys being anonymous and says he's "just a number" there.
Mayor said he made $75 after passing his initial screening and makes $40 to $50 every six months when he returns and follows up.
"The way I feel about it is, why wouldn't you do it unless you have something to hide?" he said.
Some students do not see donation or study participation as real prospects.
Natasha Torres, an elementary education major, said she has never participated in a study, would never part with her hair and doesn't see donating her eggs as a real option for making money.
"I've joked with my friends, talked about donating eggs, but no, I could never," she said.
Torres said she does not think she would ever donate plasma, either.
Stefanie Gillenwater, a senior majoring in mass communications, has donated plasma several times.