PLEASE NOTE: Kenzie Academy no longer offers Income Share Agreements as a financial option. If you would like to learn more and better understand what options are available please click HERE.
By Chok Ooi, Founder of Kenzie Academy
Earlier this month the Supreme Court began hearings to assess the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a policy enacted in 2012 which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. The Court is deciding whether DACA protections will remain in place for the 800,000 “Dreamers” currently living in the U.S under the program.
During this time of great distress for young people around the country, the higher education community has rallied around Dreamers to show support. 180+ colleges and universities along with over 40 higher-ed associations have signed briefs in support of DACA, stressing the critical role that Dreamers play in our education system.
The education community’s open support for Dreamers isn’t new. While DACA recipients have been banned from applying for federal loans since the policy was enacted, universities and postsecondary institutions throughout the U.S. have created customized financial aid programs for DACA students. Further, while financial aid isn’t available on the federal level, many states have taken action into their own hands to make education more accessible for Dreamers.
While some state and institutional action is encouraging, we need to do more to enhance access to high quality education for Dreamers. A 2017 study estimated that 120,000 DACA recipients were enrolled in some form of postsecondary education. With more than 800,000 Dreamers in the U.S. today, who should have access to both an education and the American dream, enrollment practices need a far greater overhaul. Higher education prices are exorbitant and financing options are too limited, leaving education unattainable for this generation of new workers as it stands.
As an immigrant who came to the U.S. for college, my education transformed my outlook and options after graduation. In 1999, I attended Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), and eventually transferred and graduated from the University of Texas in Austin, giving me the skills to launch my career as an engineer. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, and as an international student, I had limited access to work opportunities. My education changed all that, by giving me the skillset I needed to go out into the workforce. I worked hard to learn the technology skills needed to succeed during the financial boom of the 2000s and took risks later as an entrepreneur because of the confidence and skills my education gave me.
My engineering training gave me a shot at the American dream, and eighteen years later I founded a tech training school, Kenzie Academy, right down the street from IUPUI to help bring this same opportunity to Americans who simply can’t afford to re-skill for the technology jobs of today’s economy.
Like dozens of other post secondary institutions around the country, Kenzie leverages an innovative financing tool to make education attainable for nontraditional students: Income Share Agreement (ISA). ISAs are a financing option that requires students to pay no upfront tuition for education and only pay back once they land a job earning at least $40,000 annually.
As part of a recent $100M fundraise to expand our ISA offering to more students, Kenzie Academy is expanding eligibility to include Dreamers through our online or in-person programs using ISAs.
ISAs are uniquely positioned to help DACA recipients prepare for today’s economy because they are already transforming the lives of nontraditional students across the country. While current programs that discount tuition or provide loans for DACA students are helpful, the reality is that just like so many Americans, Dreamers can’t take on the burden of loans or go several years without an income. Unlike traditional loans, ISAs have a built in guarantee: If a student doesn’t earn a job paying the minimum salary, they owe nothing back. This offering allows students to focus on career training without worrying about how they will repay loans several years after graduation if they aren’t making a steady income.
We know just how big of a difference ISAs can make for Dreamers because we’re already seeing it in action. Colorado Mountain College began offering ISAs to DACA recipients last year and has seen the program grown tenfold. Here at Kenzie, we are re-skilling all types of Americans from retail workers to former inmates, changing the entire trajectories of their careers and lives. Over 85% of students utilize our ISA offering, which shows just how impactful this tool can be for nontraditional learners. I believe this same success can be replicated for DACA recipients.
ISAs certainly aren’t the sole solution to affordable education for Dreamers, but they’ve proven to reshape careers and open opportunities for thousands of underserved Americans already, and DACA recipients deserve the same access. Higher education is putting forth a noble effort to support for DACA students during this critical moment for Dreamers, but our role goes beyond just signing letters of support. We must do more to ensure Dreamers have both the education access and the skills to thrive in our economy.
Chok Ooi is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kenzie Academy, a college alternative that creates jobs for tomorrow’s economy by providing technology training to anyone looking to accelerate their career. @chokooi