Two women discuss work with laptops by the window.


Can Student-Centered Income Share Agreements Improve Economic Opportunity and Equity?

Ethan Pollack and Aspen Institute

Impact Investments, Education


Register to Download

You will also receive email updates with publications and other updates from Social Finance. We will not share or sell your personal information.

Over the last five years, income share agreements (ISAs) have emerged as an option for students to finance education and training. Unlike a traditional loan, students pay a fixed percentage of their income over a defined period, and students earning below a specified threshold make no payment. Over 40 U.S. colleges and universities and numerous alternative training providers have offered ISAs to finance education, and new programs are continuing to emerge. This developmental stage opens the opportunity for these institutions to guide the design of ISAs toward a student-centric framework.

These findings and recommendations are illustrated in a new issue brief by the Aspen Institute, which explores how ISAs can be designed and operated to improve economic mobility and opportunity for American workers. The Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative conducted nearly 40 formal interviews with stakeholders across the ISA landscape, including nonprofit, for-profit, and workforce ISA providers; impact investors; philanthropic organizations; consumer protection advocates; workforce experts; and higher education policy experts. The Initiative then organized a working group of practitioners and policy professionals to discuss policy guardrails and student-centered ISA principles. As a partner of the Aspen Institute, Social Finance was grateful to participate in the working group to develop the report.

While long-standing racial and economic inequities are attributed to far more than just educational access and attainment, ISAs could help reduce these inequities as they relate to postsecondary education access. [Their] focus on students’ expected future success rather than past metrics like income and credit score could expand access to financing and thus access to educational and job opportunities.

Related Insight