“We find really high levels of engagement,” Desai says. “Students are building something they’re passionate about.”

The college’s most innovative aspect, however, is its deferred tuition model, in which students can pay with the earnings they receive from their first job.

Upon enrollment, students sign an income-sharing agreement in which they promise to pay the college 20 percent of their income for 60 months after they graduate—but only if they land a job paying at least $60,000 a year.

“We make sure we’re on the hook for student success,” Desai says.

To back up this guarantee, the college has formed partnerships with more than 30 Silicon Valley employers, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy, and Lyft. These industry partners are invited to the college for “demo days,” in which students present the software projects they’ve been working on.

California’s Make School is redesigning #highered for the 21st century

Partners have the first opportunity to recruit Make School students as interns and full-time employees—and they also guide student growth through mentorships and guest lectures. In addition, they provide feedback on the college’s curriculum to make sure it remains relevant to students’ needs.

Make School’s income-sharing agreement model appears to be meeting its goal of making college more accessible: 45 percent of the college’s graduates are students of color, Desai says.

What lessons can Make School provide for more traditional institutions of higher learning? “Listen to the needs of students and employers,” he says, “and figure out a way to have more skin in the game.”

About the Author:

A former eCampus News editor, Dennis Pierce is now a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience in writing about educational innovation.


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