Career Impact Bonds (CIBs) Project


Postsecondary education and training have long been viewed as paths to higher-paying jobs and careers, but many students face financial and other barriers to enrolling in and successfully completing college or high-quality training programs. Students of color have also been excluded by these programs because of inequities that are often rooted in historical and systemic racial discrimination and biases.

In 2019, Social Finance created the UP Fund, a $50-million impact investment fund, to increase access to training for low-income students and students who have been excluded from employment in the higher wage sectors. With support from the fund, the organization pioneered the Career Impact Bond, a financing model in which students enroll in training programs at no upfront cost. In return, the students agree to pay a fixed percentage or amount relative to their future earnings, but only if they find a job above a pre-determined earnings threshold. Students who do not land a job above a pre-determined earnings threshold do not pay.

In 2020, Social Finance selected MDRC to develop a research design to study the CIB model, which includes short-term occupational skills training, support services, and financing tied to employment outcomes. With generous support from the Strada Education Network, a national social impact organization devoted to research, philanthropy, and solutions that align education and careers, MDRC launched a multisite, multiyear study in 2022.

An advisory group comprised of experts will provide input on the research plans and findings. Members include: Alex Camardelle, Director of Workforce Policy, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Bridgette Gray, Chief Customer Officer, Opportunity@Work; James Runcie, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of the Education Finance Institute (EFI); Jason Tyszko, Vice President, Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; and Kevin James, Chief Executive Officer, Better Future Forward.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

MDRC’s study will focus on Career Impact Bond (CIB) training providers across multiple industries and geographies, enrolling diverse student populations. The programs aim to help individuals obtain short-term occupational training and employment in middle- to high-skill jobs. Common program features and strategies across participating providers include sector-based training, intensive career services, supportive services, employer sponsorships, and financial supports. As of mid-2022, the five training providers participating in the study include Acuitus, Alchemy Code Lab, American Diesel Training Centers, Clinical Research Fastrack, and General Assembly.

The study comprises a process and outcome study of the four training providers. Key goals for the study include to:

  • build knowledge on how CIBs can increase affordability and access to short-term training for students of color and students from low-income households;
  • document the experiences of individuals enrolling in the CIBs and whether they vary by subgroups;
  • determine students’ understanding of financial obligations;
  • assess the extent to which CIBs help people complete training and obtain employment in middle- to high-skill jobs; and
  • determine if CIBs are a sustainable and scalable financial model.

The research team is convening a learning collaborative, a working group of training provider staff and former students, to ensure that the research design and learning agenda are responsive to stakeholder needs.