Agenda, Scope, and Goals
MDRC’s goal is to advance learning and inform practice and policy for ISAs and related programs that are designed to improve outcomes for students of color and low-income students.
ISA Playbook: With the support of the Ascendium Education Group, MDRC worked with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Columbia College Chicago, and the Partnership for Education Advancement to develop an ISA Playbook. The playbook includes a series of guides, activities, and tools to help institutions set eligibility criteria, define a target student population, develop educational materials about the ISA program, develop training for staff to help students make well-informed decisions about financial aid options, and implement enhanced student support services as part of the program.
Student Freedom Initiative: MDRC is partnering with the 501(c)3 public charity Student Freedom Initiative, which provides holistic services: (1) internships, (2) tutoring, mentoring, and other student services, (3) HBCU capacity-building, and (4) an income-contingent alternative to traditional fixed-payment obligations, called Student Freedom Agreements. MDRC is providing technical assistance to the Student Freedom Initiative in its roll-out of the Student Freedom Agreements for juniors and seniors majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at nine HBCUs starting in 2021. As an option to Parent Plus Loans, under a Student Freedom Agreement, a student would receive funds to pay for a portion of his/her educational expenses in return for monthly payments in the future that are based on the student’s income after leaving college. These monthly payments are designed to provide an equivalent and perpetual benefit for future students. Using the ISA playbook, MDRC is supporting the design and implementation of the Student Freedom Agreement communication strategy and staff training at participating HBCUs. Lessons learned from our efforts will be used to expand the program to minority-serving institutions with STEM programs that choose to participate in any of the four components of the Student Freedom Initiative’s program.
Career Impact Bonds: MDRC is partnering with Social Finance to design and implement a learning agenda for the UP Fund, a $50 million portfolio of impact investments in Career Impact Bonds (CIBs). The Career Impact Bond is a financing model that provides education and wraparound support services for people looking to upskill or reskill. The Career Impact Bond is designed to advance economic mobility for people who face barriers to education and employment like low incomes, criminal justice involvement, and immigration status. Social Finance is launching 8-12 Career Impact Bonds around the country across a range of in-demand industries, such as information technology, skilled trades, health care, and green energy. The Career Impact Bond brings together financing, short-term vocational training, and supportive services so participants can enroll in training programs at little to no upfront cost. Those who gain employment and whose earnings reach a predetermined earnings threshold following graduation repay program costs through income-based monthly payments with fixed repayment terms and payment caps, all of which are outlined in a Student Bill of Rights. As the learning partner, MDRC is working with students, alumni, staff, and research partners to design and implement a research agenda to study Career Impact Bonds, the student experience, and student outcomes.