San Diego CEO creates a new way for students to pay for college

    The struggle to pay for college may soon become a little easier for students at UCSD. The Robertson Education Empowerment Foundation is launching a new loan program this quarter that offers students more financial freedom in paying college tuition. The way it works is students can receive up to $7,000 of interest-free money a year. After the student graduates, he or she agrees to pay a fixed percentage of their salary for a fixed period of time. R.E.E.F claims that this allows students to graduate debt-free.

    Photo courtesy of REEF

    “”Instead of having interest or principal, you promise to pay back a percentage of your income for x-amount of years once you graduate,”” said Tina Stahlke, executive director of R.E.E.F. “”When you make less, you pay back less, when you make more you pay back more.””

    Unlike many loans that require repayment immediately, or six months after graduation, R.E.E.F.’s program waits until the student finds full-time employment. What R.E.E.F. hopes is that students will not have to find employment simply to pay back their student loans, but rather have the freedom to find the job they want.

    Applying for R.E.E.F. is also a lot simpler then filing a FAFSA. “”Right now the only eligibility requirement is that you be a California resident and have a 3.0 GPA,”” Stahlke said. “”It’s all based on merit and is essentially based on the individuals aspirations and goals. We’re investing in an individual, and investing that they’re going to succeed.””

    The application process is completely done online through their Web site.

    Standardized test scores and GPAs are all taken into account to determine the percentage in which you will pay your loan back.

    “”This is one where you actually investing in an individual,”” Stahlke said. “”You can’t really invest in the university the way you can invest in human capitol.””

    This new program is exclusive to UCSD because it’s founder is one of UCSD’s most successful alumnus. Michael Robertson ,founder of MP3.com and now Lindows.com, is a 1990 Earl Warren College graduate, and was one of the first to graduate in Cognitive Science. Robertson honed his computer skills by interning at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. In fact, the geneses for MP3.com happened during his undergraduate years at the Supercomputer Center.

    As an innovator in new technologies Robertson is always looking to buck the system and shake things up, and R.E.E.F. is similar in that it is a brand new, innovative approach to academic funding.

    “”Our goal is really to add a lot more funding to academia,”” Robertson said. “”If you want to invest in anything in the world now, you pretty much can except for schools. Ironically, everyone believes schools are good, but there’s no ways to use that as an investment vehicle.””

    In a year that has seen the stock market plummet, Robertson wants to introduce a safer investment — human beings.

    “”The concept is making a vehicle so people so people can invest in schools, because if you do that, you’ll see a lot more money going towards schools,”” Robertson said. “”That’s what R.E.E.F. is all about is making a vehicle so people can invest in school, because it’s a good investment. Not just so they’ll feel better because their name is on a building, but so they’ll actually get a return on their money.””

    With many people experiencing a financial aid crunch this year, Robertson’s idea may have come along just in the nick of time.

    “”I think academic funding is going to go through a tough period for the next couple years because of the state budget deficit,”” Robertson said. “”There needs to be new funding sources that compensate, and that’s our hope with R.E.E.F.””

    Robertson adds that R.E.E.F is not only a good opportunity for investors, but for students as well. “”I think there are some real benefits to students too. There are some advantages that educational investments do have. They avoid this problem of getting out of school and having this huge debt at a time when you maybe are not making that much money,”” Robertson said. “”There’s people who have to take certain jobs, not because they want them, but because they have to make a lot of money just to service their loans. As an entrepreneur, I’m glad I could strike out on my own where there were some very thin early years where if I had to service a big debt, I definitely would have been in default.””

    Of course, financial woes no longer trouble Robertson, who was included in Fortune Magazine’s 40 Richest under 40. After the success of MP3.com, Robertson is now heading Lindows.com, which is challenging Microsoft’s desktop applications.

    “”We build an operating system that is based on Linux, that costs a fraction of what Microsoft’s does”” he said.

    Robertson has seemed to weather the dot-com crash pretty well, and with R.E.E.F. he’s hoping other UCSD students will survive the troubled economy and be able to pursue their goals. He also has a challenge for UCSD students.

    “”I’m paying $25 to every student that beats me on the Chancellor’s fun run,”” Robertson said. “”So hello UCSD track team, get out there, because I’m training.””

    For more information, or to apply to REEF go to their website at http//www.aboutREEF.com

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