Our Work

Higher Education Finance

Higher Education Finance


The higher education system is afflicted by a crisis of quality, affordability, and access that belies its role in building an equitable and just society.

The broken system has led to an array of interrelated problems in education, from extremely burdensome debt loads to scant student support and inadequate academic programs. Students have had to shoulder the burden of higher education unfairly.

We develop pilots, studies, and research with the aim of gaining insight into the student debt crisis and finding the most high-impact interventions to alleviate debt and improve the higher education system. Our pilot and policy design within this initiative focus on income contingent financing and debt relief.

Working with us

If you’re interested in working with us, email We primarily partner with policymakers, universities, college access organizations, foundations, and income contingent financing providers. We provide ISA analytics, pilot operationalization, and program design, terms, and evaluation to ensure more equitable, transparent and accountable financing.

In spring 2020, we began our partnership with the Student Freedom Initiative, a major new nonprofit fund, led by Robert F. Smith, that will offer income-contingent financing to students at historically Black colleges and universities.

Income Contingent Financing Pilots

Income contingent financing is an alternative to student debt in which students agree to pay a percentage of their income over a limited period of time rather than paying principal and interest on a fixed schedule. If students earn less, they end up paying less; if they earn more, they pay more. Income contingent payments adjust with the students’ ability to repay. We see this kind of financing as a tool for addressing a broad array of issues in education. Income contingent financing can, like a form of insurance, make the cost of an education safer for students: unlike student loans, students are never on the hook for monthly payments that outstrip their income. Income contingent financing shifts the risk involved in pursuing higher education from the student onto the funder or school.

JFI builds pilot programs to prove out new applications of this model and to demonstrate its social impact. All pilots currently focus on providing an alternative to Parent PLUS and private loans, which have far higher interest rates than federal direct loans. JFI’s pilots are devised and operated in partnership with educational institutions, scholarship funds, training providers, college access organizations, and a wide range of philanthropic and impact investors.

JFI has worked on income share agreements (ISAs) as well as other forms of income-contingent financing, building research and analytics capabilities as well as nonprofit, evergreening income-contingent funds. In 2016, JFI collaborated with Purdue University and Vemo Education to design and launch the nation’s first large-scale ISA program. JFI pilots have since provided financing to students in Colorado, Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin — reaching institutions that range from General Assembly to UW-Madison. In 2019, we began working with the San Diego Workforce Partnership on ISAs for workforce-training programs. In the course of this work, JFI has developed expert capacities in capital structuring, program design, fundraising, and ISA underwriting.

Analytics and Research

JFI’s research has two major strands. First, in the course of our pilot-design work, we have constructed the most comprehensive income-contingent-financing analytics in existence — a Monte Carlo simulation combining dozens of public, private, and proprietary datasets to model a host of structures, features, and terms. We’ve adapted this framework to project returns to education in our scholarship, and have used it to aid our partners in pilot design.

Second, we produce theoretical and empirical research on the implications of ISAs and other forms of income-driven repayment as financing instruments for higher education, expanding academic and popular discourse on returns to education, college affordability, risk preferences, and asymmetrical information.

Millennial Student Debt

JFI’s Millennial Student Debt Project is a research project investigating financial, workforce, and geospatial behavior of millennials with student debt. The study aims to present a country-wide analysis and visualization of student debt and its relationship with demographic characteristics, school characteristics, and labor market characteristics, and how these relationships have changed over the past decade.

The project name refers to the key focus of our study–student debt, in its many forms, sizes and payment schemes–but we are especially interested in the decisions leading up to and following debt take-up. Additionally, JFI’s research on the effects of institutional concentration on net tuition costs, as well as the relationship between federal/state funding and workforce trends, will serve to complement and contextualize our research on student debt. JFI purchased two comprehensive and nationally-representative credit bureau datasets on the millennial cohort to supplement this project.

View all the posts in the series here.


  • Arnold Ventures
  • Better Future Forward
  • College Possible
  • The Dream.US
  • Education Finance Institute
  • The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
  • Lumni
  • Opportunity @ Work
  • Outcome
  • Purdue University
  • Rockefeller Foundation
  • Russell Sage Foundation
  • San Diego Workforce Partnership
  • Student Freedom Initiative


  • What is higher education finance?  

  • Why is higher education finance in the news? 

  • How do students ordinarily pay for school? 

  • What is an income share agreement? 

  • Doesn’t the federal government offer something like income share agreements? 

  • How does IDR differ from ISAs? 

  • What other features may ISAs have to protect students? 

  • Why write that “ISAs may be built” with these features, instead of “ISAs are built” with these features? 

  • Would an ISA system push students into the highest-paying majors? 

  • Does the Jain Family Institute offer ISAs? 

  • What does JFI do with ISAs? 

  • What type of ISA and higher education research does JFI conduct? 

  • Given the expense, is college worth it? 

  • Does JFI advocate for ISAs? 

  • How can I get an ISA if JFI doesn’t provide them? 

  • I’m an institution interested in piloting ISAs. How can we work together? 

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