In late 2011, Eddie Triste walked into a meeting at his community college. There, a couple of middle-aged guys offered him $15,000 to help finance the rest of his undergraduate education. He was skeptical. Triste comes from a family of farmworkers in California's Central Valley — the "working poor," as he describes them — who aren't used to people offering them cash without something fishy being involved.
"You're coming in, and they're offering you this too-good-to-be-true deal," says Triste, who is the first in his family to go to college. "It took me two or three meetings to figure out what they were talking about. Rereading the contract, rereading the contract."
Triste and three of his classmates at the two-year Allan Hancock College in Santa Barbara eventually took a leap of faith and accepted the offer of cash to transfer to another school, with the money paying tuition for a four-year degree. Now Triste is a part-time student at California State University in Sacramento, where he also works as an event coordinator. After he graduates with a bachelor's degree in sociology, Triste wants to eventually become a professor.
In 2012, these four Allan Hancock students became part of an experimental "cohort" set up by 13th Avenue Funding, a small New York City-based nonprofit aiming to change the way Americans think about financing college. It shouldn't be about debt, like buying a car, these executives say. Higher education should be viewed like equity — investors (parents, colleges, and entrepreneurs) bet on students' potential earnings and accomplishments. Sometimes they win. Sometimes they lose. Collectively, the economy gets better because more people get college degrees.