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A Paid Sabbatical [All Questions, Narrative 27 February 2017]

Every 7 years anyone can take a paid Sabbatical with free opportunities to study and/or intern.

Photo of Chris Eberhardt

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For almost a decade companies such as Polaroid and 3M and more recently Google have been offering the paid 15-20%, where employees get paid to explore their own interests. A paid sabbatical for everyone is an opportunity to inject into higher education, in its broadest sense as education beyond high school, with that same sense of a freedom to learn, to play and to explore new things at a time when lifelong learning is becoming mandatory. Life happens, and everyone, not just elites, should be given the opportunity to learn again without having to worry about how they are going to pay their daily bills.


Everyone will have the right to a sabbatical every 7 years beginning at the age of 18. A 6 month grace period will be offered. If the sabbatical is not started within that grace period, the sabbatical goes into a bank. Banked sabbaticals will be randomly assigned to petitioners to the extent it is fiscally sustainable (ie. for every four unclaimed sabbaticals, one is given to a petitioner). A person can petition for a hardship sabbatical, if it has been at least three years since the last paid sabbatical. Hardship sabbaticals will be for those that have experienced recent job losses and/or were deemed to have attended failing public schools ie. “dropout factories”. The unemployed will draw on a hybrid funding model to the extent they already receive other assistance.


The sabbaticals will be paid for with an income tax similar to that used in California and New Jersey in the United States for their paid family leave programs. Similar to California and New Jersey, this program would be built on top of an existing department, and overhead would be limited to payments. In-kind donations of seats in classrooms will be donated by learning institutions (private and public universities, community colleges, bootcamps). Similar to public schools in the United States, all employed individuals are required to pay into the system even if they decide to opt out of the sabbatical.


Participants are eligible to take up to a full load of courses for 1 year through the consortium of learning institutions as able.


Participants will be eligible to intern at a participating organization, and will be recognized as students for all intents and purposes as required by internship laws and guidelines.


During the sabbatical, as reasonable, participants will be asked to check in for data purposes (ie. tracking skills gained, mental and physical health, etc.) on a monthly basis both with automated systems and members of the sabbatical community. 


Participants will be expected to join existing sabbatical groups of past and current participants.


Participants will be required to share a reflection within an existing Sabbatical group. Proof of sharing this reflection will be required to receive the last month's subsidy.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

My idea is designed for policymakers. It reimagines higher education by trying to reclaim it from this notion of educational front-loading at a 4 year university and adapting to our contemporary challenges. As The Economist and others note, lifelong learning is now mandatory. Instead of reacting with training, we need to create a healthier society where there is supported lifelong learning for all people. The paid family leave in California and New Jersey offer a potential model for funding.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Suggestions on how to keep this simple. Input from those involved in pilot projects like Y Combinator's Basic Income Project would also help. Input from those that operate sabbatical programs or have taken sabbatical either by choice (ie. offered through company) or circumstance (ie. laid off/fired).

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Just as Y Combinator is setting up a basic income experiment, the same could be done for a Sabbatical. Randomly select 100 people, that for 6 months will receive a stipend of $3,000. Through partnering universities and companies they will be given the opportunity to study and/or intern for free (participants not required to). Workplaces of those randomly chosen must commit to keeping employee on after sabbatical or person cannot participate.Data kept on skills gained, social and physical health.

Tell us about your work experience:

I have taught at every level from kindergarten to the university level. I also have over five years in administration experience in higher education. I was fortunate to go to grad school at a university with one of the best design schools in the world and I co-founded an NGO drawing on grad school connections.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

We no longer can afford to have a system where only the elites are able to take paid sabbaticals to learn and refresh themselves. We need to make sure that everyone has opportunities to retrain unhindered by the daily costs of life. This program, every 7 years, allows everyone to take a paid year off to learn through free study, an internship or other means.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

A front loading higher education is out of date, support for lifelong learning is now needed for a civically active, educated and economically productive citizenry.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

As far as I am aware there is nothing like it for the average person. The closest thing is the paid sabbaticals that are offered to tenured professors at universities in the United States.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Interviews can be used to gauge what if any new skills have been gained, and what if any new ways that citizens are more involved. In addition, to gauge the degree to which citizens have become healthier and have improved skills, data can be tracked. The plan can be measured using quantitative and qualitative methods. In an effort to save costs, partnerships with graduate students will be sought.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

The authority responsible for collecting the tax and distributing the payments can be scaled, from local government to state/provincial or the national level. Right now, one program that serves as a funding model, California's paid family leave program, is at the state/provincial level. Policymakers and their constituents will have to buy-in in order for the program to be successful.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Navigate the nuances of differing state laws regarding internships, to determine how participants could participate in an internship if they wished. Determine how participants could use seats in schools (universities, community colleges, online bootcamps, etc.). Seek out potential funders that would be willing to fund a pilot project.

Attachments (1)

OpenIDEO Narrative (3).pdf

Design Narrative


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Chris,

There are a few hours left in the refinement phase, if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me.

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