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The Three Percenters: Education for All (Eventually)

A global student network whereby financially disadvantaged students have their tuition paid in exchange for agreeing to give 3% of their salary every year for life back to the fund. This should theoretically allow for an increase in jobs (more entrepreneurs) and more educated to fill them, bolstering the currently-lacking labor markets in developed nations. Once the fund becomes self-sustaining growth should accelerate into the long run and thus allow for strong organic growth or expansion into MOOCs for primary and high schooling.

Photo of An Old Friend
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To keep it simple - educated people are more likely to create and fill jobs. Although this two sided market is working well well in developed countries the cost of education (along with the subjation of women) leaves this market in developing countries vastly unsupplied on both sides. The idea behind The Three Percenters looks to solve this problem in the long run by fostering a global borderless fellowship who cover each others costs as outlined in the summary. It may also be a good idea to have a social network for alumni and students to stay connected.

For approximately the first decade the fund will rely on donations but once self-sustaining the fund should theoreittically accelerate with more alumni and will use any surplus funds (not required for current tuition commitments) to either:
a. Expand the original program, funding the college education of more students, working towards the goal of no one going without a college education due to finances
b. Move laterally into primary and secondary education via MOOCs; relying on both mobile and computer networks (as we spoke about in research). It would be incredible if we could get sponsorship from a stable of tech companies for this so TTPs can focus on their primary goal as a specialized organization.

I certainly think that "b" (the lateral expansion into MOOCs) is important as The Three Percenters wouldn't initially address the issue of getting to a level where you can even apply to college. Therefore in its current form it is in the unfortunate position of addressing the somewhat needy before it addresses the very needy.

This is just something that I've just been thinking about this for a few hours so I'm sure it has plenty of holes but I'd love for you guys to build upon it!

Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

This benefits financially challenged would-be college students in allowing them to get an education and get the college experience, former college students who are looking to give back to those in similar positions and colleges themselves through getting more custom! As it expands it could also hopefully children who require a primary and secondary education, both through the provision of MOOCs and by providing communities with a light at the end of the tunnel should they work to motivate their children to college-entry-level.

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

It feeds both sides of the labor market - increasing the provision of jobs by graduating more entrepreneurs and by increasing the number of qualified graduates to fill those positions. This should give developing nations a healthier, more robust labor market akin to that of developed countries.

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

This is a good question and would love for you guys to weigh in. So far I can only think of more detailed financial projections to figure out how long until sustainability. As well as surveying potential donors and tech companies (as potential MOOC sponsors).

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

There are several large administrative, financial and legal hurdles to this model; it will need guidance in pretty much every area. I would be very grateful if people could have a read through and lend their advice upon whatever aspect their most comfortable with.

The idea emerged from:

  • An individual

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • I'm more throwing the idea out there to inspire potential implementers

This inspired (1)

YouthCafe Reboot


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Photo of Aaryaman Singhal

Hey Des,

I like that this idea has a model for becoming self-sustainable. I think it might be possible to try on a small scale by partnering with one university or one organization that is already trying to get more lower-income students into and through college.

If the program can show come success on a pilot level, then big organizations (I'm thinking the Gates Foundation) might make a large investment to try to scale the program to other universities.

I also think that adding a mentorship piece for the students receiving the tuition money would be useful.

Another great aspect of this is that with the 3% rule, it'll be easy to track whether or not graduates have made money (and if this is more than they would have expected to make if they hadn't gone to college).

Other challenges to address: I think life and happiness aren't just about money. How can we help students live more fulfilling lives in general? Having a steady income certainly helps but isn't everything.

I know some people are concerned that too many people are going to college while not enough are going to vocational/technical schools. Colleges train people in a certain way and don't necessarily provide the skills businesses are looking for. Maybe open this up to vocational/technical schools as well?

Good luck!

Photo of An Old Friend

Thanks for your response, Aaryaman! I agree it definitely should be opened up to vocational/technical universities also - examples like art and music schools come to mind.

Photo of Sarah Klein

Hi Des,

This is a fascinating idea, and I think it has some real potential! When I read it last night, I was so excited that I called up some of my peers (also ages 15-24) to ask them their thoughts on this. They expressed the following concerns:

1.) While giving a percentage back of income is a better alternative to having debt to pay even when income is nonexistent, my peers expressed immediate trepidation and fear of having a percentage of their income for all time being essentially owned by a foundation. How could this foundation be presented in a way that does not seem, as one of my peers phrased it, "soul sucking"?

2.) Perhaps a more tangible concern than the emotions-related one above: why would the foundation get 3% of each student's income for all time? Surely the foundation would have broke even for education costs prior to each student's death. Is there a less extreme time frame for which the foundation will extrapolate from each student's income, say 10 years or 20 years?

All in all, despite these points, I think that this idea is excellent overall.


Photo of An Old Friend

Sarah, thank you for your encouraging response. I had thought about these concerns during the initial write up (my bad for not alluding to them in the piece!). 1. This could be seen as a marketing challenge and I feel that students will hopefully be excited by the fact that they're supporting the education of future students just like them and to support this the allocation of funds should be completely transparent to all stakeholders. 2. The idea behind this (versus the AUS or UK ones that David alluded to in his comment) is that it will allow for rapid expansion both horizontally and vertically (MOOC - primary and secondary). However, it would also be vital to implement a minimum income threshold below which the organization doesn't touch their income. Feel free to drop me feedback on this response :)

Photo of Hima Batavia

Hi Des, I like your line of thinking. I agree with some of the points that others have made -- you have to identify a model that is profitable, but also keeps the best interest of youth/future adults in mind. I know many people who struggle with school debt for 10-20 years after college, and it is a huge source of stress, so I think there is some validity to having a fixed term, However, perhaps if this was structured like a community, where everyone involved was very invested in future classes and initiatives, than 3% may not seem like a burden. Maybe learning from churches and mosques, where people donate x% of their salary a month to the institution could provide some interesting insights.

I suggested a similar idea to yours here ( - and would love your feedback. Similarly, I believe there is an opportunity for a train now, pay later, but one that is focused on skill development for short intense periods, and than a fixed payback period that includes a margin, is integrated into employers payment systems for seamless transfer, and a mentorship program that aligns incentives between training organizations and students.

Perhaps there is room for collaboration?

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