Rarely in real life is there a money-back guarantee. One school is attempting to change that.
At MissionU, if students don't develop the skills they need to land a good job in a high-growth field, then there is no debt to be repaid. Students take part in a one-year program that includes class time (both online and in-person), case studies and an internship.
About 30 students enrolled in the program's premiere year, which began in September. At its conclusion, they'll receive industry certification in data analytics and business intelligence, as well as professional work references.
And they won't pay anything out of pocket.
MissionU charges nothing up front. Instead, students agree to pay 15 percent of their salary for three years once they have graduated from the program and secured a job making at least $50,000 a year.
"We are in the midst of a national crisis around student debt," said Adam Braun, CEO and co-founder. "We need to have institutions investing in their students, instead of vice versa."
Over the last decade, college-loan balances in the United States have jumped to an all-time high of $1.4 trillion, according to a recent report by Experian. The average outstanding balance is $34,144, up 62 percent over the last 10 years.
Braun's goal is for program participants to develop the skills they need to be hired into a well-paying position that would rival any college graduate's starting salary — without the overarching debt. (B.A. degree holders earn $37,000, on average, in the first few years after graduation, according to Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce.)
Due in part to rapidly rising costs and the ensuing debt burden, many would-be college students are discovering this type of alternative occupational program in industries with high-growth potential, such as data analytics.
More from College Game Plan:
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The first steps to repaying your student debt
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At the same time, the college completion rate fell to about 52 percent of students, down from 56 percent over the past three years at public and private four-year institutions, while college enrollment has also declined overall, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
"What we are seeing is that there is a growing variety in the kinds of pathways students take," said Jason DeWitt, research manager at the Clearinghouse. "Although it's too early to know how that's affecting traditional college enrollment."
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