a16z Podcast

Are ISAs the Solution to Student Debt?

Austen Allred, D'Arcy Coolican, and Lauren Murrow

Posted December 18, 2019

A bold proposal: You go to college for free, then pay back the school after graduation—but only if you get a job in your field of study and make a high enough salary to afford it. It’s called an income share agreement, and Austen Allred, the CEO and cofounder of Lambda School, thinks it’s the future of education.

Student debt currently stands at more than 1.5 trillion dollars, which makes it the second-highest consumer debt category behind mortgage debt. The crisis has saddled much of a generation, with far reaching effects. Income share agreements, or ISAs, have been put forth as an alternative to the current system. Put simply, an ISA is an agreement between a school and a student for the student to pay a defined percentage of income to the school, for a particular period of time, up to a certain cap. It’s a seemingly simple conceit with complex design considerations, and it’s spurring debate across media and politics.

In this episode, Lambda School CEO Austen Allred, a16z partner D’Arcy Coolican, and a16z editorial partner Lauren Murrow delve into the greater implications ISAs may have for education and the economy. The discussion covers both the promise and the challenges of ISAs—why they’ve been relatively slow to gain traction, why they’ve failed in the past, and why some in the political sphere are still skeptical.