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I have worked with a lot of independent contractors and small business owners over the years from many different fields—from HR vendors and alt-currency app developers to Americana songwriters and organic winemakers—and while the respective worlds are often seemingly very different, one objective unites them all: the goal of offsetting debt with revenue.

The bad business of student debt

When you’re on your own, or part of a small organization, you rarely have the headroom for risk. If you spend a little, you usually need to make a little. Spend a lot, and you need to make a lot. And, pretty quickly. Debt is simply not sustainable. And yet, the modern higher-education student is expected to accept debt without question. Often, massive debt. With no promise of offsetting revenue.

If this was business, it would be bad business.

“No idea when student loans will be paid off”

Bloomberg just published an article with the following headline: Majority of Millennials Have ‘No Idea’ When Student Loans Will Be Paid Off. This is how the article begins:

The path to freedom from student debt is a long, winding, and arduous one with no end in sight for millennials. A new survey conducted online in February by research agency TNS on behalf of Citizens Bank found 59 percent of those polled have “no idea” when they will be able to pay back their student debt.

Would you start your own business with a financial model in place that predicted achieving profitability in … well … never? No, you wouldn’t. That would be bad business. So what’s the answer for students today? Is possible to pursue effective higher education in a way that makes for good business? That minimizes risk? That evidences a strategy for offsetting debt with revenue? Is it possible to pursue effective higher education without having to accept an endless debt-saddled future?

At Udacity, we know we succeed only when our students succeed, so these are questions we wrestle with every day. Can we find ways to be a Yes answer for our students? In a world where fully a third of individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 are saying “they wouldn’t have attended college at all had they known the extent of the costs in advance,” we HAVE to represent a Yes!

Nanodegree Plus, plus …

Our goal has always been to provide economical learning solutions for students that offer viable ways forward: up-to-the-minute, in-demand skills, a valued credential recognized by top companies, and a manageable financial model that both incentivizes and rewards student success.

Nanodegree Plus took this commitment a step further—a guaranteed job (providing a revenue stream to offset tuition expenses), or a 100% tuition refund. Once again, our goal was to offer a way forward for students to achieve educational and career success without risk, or debt.

Our global, on-demand network of Udacity project reviewers is another expression of our commitment to student success. Not only does this network represent a critical asset for our students (who benefit from timely, detailed, and expert project and code review throughout their Nanodegree program studies), it also offers viable employment opportunities for both current students and Udacity alumni who want to take on project review roles.

Answering Yes to Student Success!

These are just three examples. There are new and exciting things to come. Our goal is to teach you what you need to know, so you can get the job you want, so you can live the life you deserve. We want you to be in demand while you study, and from every moment on after you earn your Nanodegree credential. If we can do this, we’ll have succeeded. If we can do this in a way that leaves you free of debt, then we’ll have produced a Yes answer to those pressing questions above.

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.