Founded in 1819, Norwich University is the country’s oldest private military college in the nation, serving over 4,000 traditional, non-residential and adult online students. It is recognized as the birthplace of ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) and offers 36 distinct undergraduate degrees, concentrated into 35 majors within 19 broad fields of study, with particular focus on cyber-security, engineering, criminal justice and law enforcement administration. As the institution enters its third century, they continue to be driven by three key words provided by their trustees: Flexibility. Relevance. Affordability.
To meet the charge set by the trustees—particularly, the third point—the university set a ten-year goal to eliminate all upfront tuition to enable students to attend NU simply on the basis of their motivation and academic performance. This would be a major undertaking, particularly for a private school, but one that was consistent with the university’s values and critical to fulfilling their mission. Balancing affordability with the university’s financial stability, however, was a challenge. While NU had accumulated funds from their bicentennial campaign that could be used to start this endeavor, they struggled to find a way to make this plan work for the long term. It wasn’t until their research uncovered the benefits and opportunities of Income Share Agreement (ISA) programs that everything fell into place.
Program Design Overview
Not only would the fundament nature of ISAs deliver the affordability NU sought, but it created school accountability, provided better signaling of price and value, and reduced financial risk to students by incorporating payment caps and minimum income thresholds protecting graduates in cases of unemployment or lower-paying jobs.
After a number of meetings with university leaders and staff, Vemo and NIU created a program that launched the university’s ambitious efforts. While the ultimate goal will be to transform the university’s business model and replace tradition tuition entirely, the Norwich ISA program currently has three main objectives.
- Provide financial assistance to juniors, seniors, and fifth-year students who are struggling financially to complete their studies;
- Fill funding gaps left by retired programs, such as the Federal Perkins Laon program; and
- Provide tuition assistance for adult programs, particularly online curricula.
The income generated through payments will keep the program evergreen, in line with the university’s culture that focuses on investing in the future success of its students—and the success of its future students.
Important Student Protections
A minimum income threshold below which students aren’t required to make payments, but are in good standing with the obligation
A fixed percentage of a graduate’s income, so payments should always be affordable
A payment term that limits the time period of even if the student has paid less than the initial funding amount or nothing at all
A payment cap to ensure a reasonable maximum payment amount
As a progressive school, Norwich is committed to creating a model that levels the playing field for boosting student access to education. We had brainstormed various ways to finance our strategic plan to accomplish this, but it wasn’t until our CFO mentioned Income Share Agreements that we began to see how we could make this a reality. Within three minutes of talking about ISAs with Vemo, we knew we had found the missing link that would make it all work.
Dr. Fred Snow Special Advisor to the President Provost, Norwich University