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General Assembly is teaming with Opportunity@Work on a new program designed to reach D.C. residents who are otherwise unable to afford training that offer preparation for tech careers.
Learn and Earn is “specifically for students who are underrepresented in the tech community,” said General Assembly Regional Director Shanaz Chowdhery.
In a pilot of the program held this fall, a cohort of about 10-15 students will receive access to General Assembly’s 14-week Full-Time Web Development Program at its downtown D.C. location.
The students will receive full financing for the program. It also provides $2,000 a month in living expenses. The students who go through the program will agree to pay back the financing after they get a job, Chowdhery said. The financing can be adjusted based on earnings at a job.
General Assembly already has a scholarship program, but the new program has the potential to reach more people.
Creating a sustainable program required rethinking how students pay for the program, said Karan Chopra, cofounder of Opportunity@Work, a D.C.–based nonprofit which also plays a role in the national TechHire program.
In developing the program, Chopra said they approached it with the following questions: “How do we make the financing tied to outcomes and payment tied to outcomes?” And, “Do we think the individual will be better off because of financing, which is a question that is not asked in our student loan system today.”
In practice, reaching a lower-income population meant a recognition that potential students may already have debt or a low credit score. That meant doing away with a credit score cutoff and other requirements of traditional financing.
“Those things are not inclusive,” Chopra said.
In fact, the money is paid back via an income sharing agreement rather than a loan. There are also features built in that are designed to provide support after the training is complete. “We don’t charge at all if students are earning less than $35,000 per year,” Chowdhery said. Additionally, the living expenses can continue during a three-month job search period after the program. In turn, money that is paid back will be used to fund tuition for future students.
“It is about them getting jobs and good jobs,” Chopra said.” That comes with them demonstrating on the tuition portion of this that these are individuals who are as likely to succeed in this system and there should be financing options for them.”
It’s a new approach for General Assembly, but the training portion of the program can be run with existing staff in D.C., Chowdhery said. A two-week session to prepare students for the program is also being included. The program involves a mix of dev skills training as well as “soft skills” like interviewing and networking.
Along with providing initial opportunities for both students and the program’s leaders to learn, the pilot will offer a foundation that could lead to an expansion in other locations around the country, Chopra said.
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