Ashutosh Desai is a college dropout who has become an education reformer. He dropped out of UCLA as a freshman, after concluding that he “was investing time and money for a credential, not an education.”

Desai went on to found a San Francisco-based higher ed institution, “Make School,” which takes a radical new approach. The school reflects his conviction that post-secondary education should focus—not on funding (loans) and access—but on the link between learning objectives and career success. This is especially so for first-generation, low-income and minority students, he says.

Make School offers a bachelor’s degree in applied computer science that a student can complete in two-and-half years. In a recent article for the Manhattan Institute, entitled Refocusing Higher Education on Career Outcomes, Desai explains the revolutionary concept behind his institution:

Most [of our] students pay nothing until they get a job that pays at least $60,000 annually…. [Our program] eschews traditional metrics for admission. Unlike students in most top computer-science programs, many of our students come from minority backgrounds; yet they achieve average starting salaries on par with the best programs in the country.

Desai adds that 40 percent of his students are members of minority groups, and nearly half are from families making less than $60,000 annually.

In his Manhattan Institute article, Desai writes that the vast majority of post-secondary institutions “have no systemic incentives to improve student career outcomes or the financial well-being of alumni.” Too often, these institutions focus on attracting students without giving them information on how likely they are to get well-paying jobs in their chosen field, he says.

He advocates a number of reforms he believes would improve outcomes for post-secondary students. These include:

  • Require schools to report job outcomes to help students make smart choices
  • Encourage accreditors to seek and support innovation
  • Partner with philanthropic organizations to create pay-for-success grants for innovative experiments, and
  • Implement risk-sharing for federal loans to incentivize schools to prepare students for careers.

On this last point, Desai explains that Make School currently uses Income Share Agreements as an alternative to Title IV loans (federal financial aid funds). His institution shares in debt-related risk with students, so that they pay back tuition only if they get a well-paying job.

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