Scaling the Dream: How Philanthropy Can Use Income Share Agreements to Make College Possible for Millions of Dreamers

by Kevin James

Today we are excited to release a new paper exploring how America's civic and philanthropic community can use income share agreements (ISAs) to help millions of Dreamers access and complete a college degree. While the full paper is available to the right, I want to draw out a few points:

  • Because of their undocumented status, Dreamers lack access to many of the federal and state financial aid resources. As a result, only five percent of Dreamers have completed a college degree relative to 18 percent of the general population. This is a tragedy of opportunity for our nation and these students, many of whom view the U.S. as their home given that it is the country in which they have grown up.

  • ISAs offer the potential to help Dreamers access financial aid in a way that is protective of them—their future obligation is tied to their after-school income—while also scalable in a way that scholarships and loans cannot be. This combination of access, protection, and scale is the foundation on which BFF's programs are built, and it is a philosophy we believe could be applied to Dreamers to help many of these students who are currently left behind.

  • The Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program is a critical component of supporting Dreamers with ISAs because it gives Dreamer participants the ability to work in the U.S. legally. There is currently uncertainty around whether the DACA program will be continued. As a result, some may be inclined to wait until a resolution of this question before taking action to support Dreamers through ISAs. While understandable, this paper identifies ways in which these risks can be mitigated with the hope that America's philanthropic community can lead a process of using new tools to help these students.

I am hopeful that our work, as well as the work of other pioneering institutions like Colorado Mountain College, can help start a discussion about new ways we can bring support to these students at a scale that hasn't been possible in the past.

The full paper is available on the right. If you have thoughts or questions, they are welcome! You can reach me at

Note: Thanks to Lumina Foundation for supporting this work. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Lumina Foundation, its officers or employees.

Kevin James