The University of Utah has launched Invest in U, a pilot program designed to help students pay education-related costs so they can complete their degrees faster and launch their professional careers. The U is the first major university in the Western region to offer its students this type of financial assistance.
“Through Invest in U, the University of Utah is investing in our students to help them succeed, recognizing that many students start and stop their educations based on finances,” said U President Ruth Watkins.
Through the Invest in U program, the university will offer students the option of an income share agreement (ISA). This new financial aid tool addresses financial barriers that may result in a student prolonging completion of a degree or dropping out of college. Invest in U is open to students in 18 selected majors who are within one year of graduating.
Eligible students may receive up to $10,000 per fall, spring and summer academic semesters. Payments may be paused for students pursuing graduate degrees, engaged in voluntary service and working full time but earning less than $20,000 a year.
Students who receive an ISA, which is potentially less expensive than other loan options, agree to pay a set percentage of income after graduation for a fixed period. That percentage is 2.85 percent for three to 10 years, depending on major and amount received.
Courtney McBeth, special assistant to the president, is directing the project. McBeth said Invest in U is funded by $6 million in donor, investor and university money. Payments made by students after they graduate will go back into the Invest in U program, creating a perpetual fund to help future students.
The University of Utah has the highest graduation rate, the lowest average debt at graduation and the highest average beginning salary for graduates of any public institution in the state—and well above the national median.
But aversion to debt, the need to work while attending school and other factors lead many students to extend their schooling or to never complete a degree, which means they delay or forgo earning potential tied to being a college graduate.
“This is a way for the university, our donors and our investor community to say, ‘We trust you. We have faith in your future. We are supporting you,’” Watkins said. “I’m really grateful to the donors and investors who are helping us fill funding gaps so more students can complete their degrees.”
The university’s new Invest in U program reflects a statewide commitment to affordable higher education.
“We are excited to see the University of Utah leading nationally in piloting this innovative, flexible financing option to help more students graduate,” said David Buhler, commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education. “In Utah, 27 percent of people who started college never graduated. This will help many more students get their diplomas, which we know is associated with higher earnings in the future.”
The program also is attracting attention from national philanthropic organizations.
“We applaud creative, student-centered funding opportunities that promote college retention and completion for students who are too often left out,” said Terri Taylor, Lumina Foundation’s deputy director for postsecondary finance. “The University of Utah is not just relieving financial stress for these students—it’s also helping Utah develop a talented workforce to drive a healthy economy.”
The university developed its income share agreement program over the past year with help from the U’s Sorenson Impact Center and university leaders and students. It recently partnered with Vemo Education, which has worked with such higher education institutions as Purdue University, Norwich University and Messiah College to develop, implement and sustain income share agreement initiatives.
“The University of Utah has a well-earned reputation for innovation in a state known for its efforts to ensure access to affordable higher education,” said Tonio DeSorrento, founder and CEO of Vemo Education. “This new program is the next step in the university’s pioneering efforts to create pathways to opportunity that support a new generation of students.”