University of Utah commits to student success through ISAs
Ensuring students complete their degrees in a timely manner is an important goal for colleges and universities everywhere. But not every school takes the steps to help their students stay on track as the University of Utah.
One of the country’s major universities, the University of Utah serves a diverse community of 31,000 learners in 17 colleges and over 100 departments. With a high proportion of adult learners, first-generation college students, and immigrants, degree completion remains a top focus of the school.
While the university made significant strides in helping students graduate on-time, their eight-year completion rate was a full 5% higher than the six-year completion rate, indicating that degree completion was still a problem.
Loan debt avoidance was cited as a key issue for many—a distinguishing trait of Utah’s culture that resulted in students dropping out and re-enrolling multiple times to avoid being burdened with financial obligations.
The university knew that something needed to be done to work with the beliefs of their community and student body. They had offered donor-funded micro-grants and scholarships previously to help these students stay in school, but a wider, more inclusive solution was called for.
A customized solution targeted to completion rates
In 2018, a cross-department group of stakeholders started investigating income share agreements (ISAs). ISAs by their very nature would help address students’ reluctance to take on debt, while providing safeguards (e.g., if the student become unemployed) and other payment terms that would benefit students.
The university knew that the right ISA provider would have experience with large, public institutions and be able to provide an exceptional level of rigor and structure for the proposed program. After a competitive RFP process—noting the success of Purdue University’s Back a Boiler program—the selection team chose to partner with Vemo Education to create their ISA program.
After collaborating with university staff and analyzing institutional data, a customized pilot program was designed that targeted seniors within 32 credit hours of graduation in 18 majors and 9 schools, including the schools of business, engineering, health, medicine, education, architecture and planning, social and behavioral science, and humanities.
Branded as “Invest in U,” the pilot program includes:
- $6 million in funding
- $3,000–10,000 funding per student
- 2.85% income share
- Maximum Payment Amount and Payment Window terms
- Up to two ISAs per year (fall/spring and summer)
Paying today’s tuition with tomorrow’s success
Funded by donors, Invest in U emphasizes that students see their participation in the ISA program as a “pay-it-forward” investment in the success of fellow students and alumni. The program’s website describes that ISA payments, “will go back into the Invest in U fund, allowing you to help perpetuate and fund the success of future students.”
The university is already recruiting students for the program and hopes to help 150 seniors support their education with an ISA in the first year—and up to 1,500 students in the long term.
For more details, read the full success story of Invest in U here. [Vemo Case Study – University of Utah]