January 7, 2019

Lambda is one of education’s biggest shake-ups of recent years where students pay tuition after getting hired

I.S.A. stands for Income Sharing Agreement, and it’s the basis for Lambda School, an online university which won’t charge you a penny until after you’ve graduated and found a jobThe I.S.A. means that once you have found a job that pays over $50,000, you pay Lambda School 17% of your income for two years as repayment for your education. This concept bypasses the ever-growing black hole of student debt—typical American students amass $22,000 in debt by graduation.

The fine print
Currently, Lambda focuses on highly-paid and sought-after professions like coding and data science. Lambda says that 83% of its students get a job with a median salary of $70,000 within six months of graduating. If you fail to get a job after a Lambda education, or your salary is lower than $50,000, you don’t pay anything until you pass that boundary. Payments are capped at $30,000, so if a student earns well over $50,000 isn’t unduly penalized. Finally, if a student loses a job, the payments pause until their situation fits the criteria again.

What’s the downside?
It all seems like a revolution waiting to happen, the contemporary models of education make traditional university schemes seem outdated and unfair (as if they didn’t already). The I.S.A. treats students as investments rather than cash cows, this sounds great, but comes at a price. People only make investments when they think it’s safe, and a safe investment in this game is a promising, low-risk student that wants to study for a career promising a high salary. This neglects higher-risk students who may not have had the chance to prove how promising they can be, it also casts aside students with hopes of working in noble, but lower compensated, professions. This payment technique narrows the scope of education, forcing a particular type of student to focus on a particular type of job.

As a recent graduate myself, this strikes a chord with me. Throughout university, my peers and I felt a deep sense of injustice, seemingly working towards and paying for a piece of paper which confirmed an arbitrary result. With more of a focus on the student and their future, the I.S.A. system does feel like a more positive way to approach the situation. There are indeed problems in that the Lambda model limits education’s field of view, but I wonder whether this can be worked out and minimized; perhaps a process of smaller payments over a longer period could be applied to students earning under the $50,000 mark due to their chosen occupation. The idea needs refinement, but in a more general sense, it’s encouraging that organizations recognize the injustices and downfalls of the old system, and are in the process of changing it.

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