The group funded four students last year, and will bump that number up to 11 for the 2013-2014 school year. All of the students graduated from Allen Hancock College, a two-year institution in central California that 13th Avenue partners with, and many are first-generation college students.
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Each student funded by 13th Avenue signs a "human capital contract," agreeing to pay 6 percent of their future earnings back to the organization. That money will in turn finance a new set of students.
This approach has garnered its share of criticism, says CEO Bob Whelan.
"We've run into comments like, 'Oh, this is indentured servitude, to have a student commit a certain percentage of future income,'" he says. "It's more like venture capital. Except we're not investing in companies, we're investing in students."
Even students the organization serves wondered what the catch was, says Eddie Triste, 32, a veteran and senior at Sacramento State University.
"At first we're all hesitant of like, 'What do you mean you want to invest in us?'" says Triste, who was raised in a Central Valley community populated by field laborers. "Where I grew up, we really don't trust people a lot."
Triste, a sociology major who plans to pursue a Ph.D. and eventually run his own outreach organization, would have continued his education without the help of 13th Avenue, but money would have been a constant point of stress, he says.
"I've been working for most of my life," says Triste, whose parents never graduated from high school. "There's always been that stress of trying to balance out going to school, paying for school, paying for rent, helping my family out. Those things, they always collided with each other."
Both Whelan and LoCascio present their models as solutions to the so-called student debt crisis, but others have their doubts.
Eyra Perez, executive director of the San Antonio Education Partnership, points out that these plans don't tackle the issue of financial illiteracy, which even Whelan cites as one of the biggest challenges his organization faces.
Financial aid reformers also need to take a multipronged approach to fixing the system, she says, and consider the needs of a variety of communities, such as low-income and minority students.
"I think it's great that we're looking at it and thinking outside of the box," says Perez. "But what works in Oregon won't necessarily work in Texas."
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