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Photo: Flatiron School

Amid a political uprising against student debt, some colleges and skills schools are offering a tuition scheme in which students commit to paying a fixed percentage of their after-graduation salary for five or more years.

What's happening: The system, called "Income Share Agreements," responds to what many experts call a student debt crisis: some 44 million Americans now owe some $1.5 trillion, and most of the Democratic presidential candidates are calling for some form of free college or trade school, and debt forgiveness.

  • ISAs look a lot like loans, and typical terms result in students paying back 150% to 250% of the original tuition.
  • But loans have much the same results, and ISAs are missing a key downside to straight borrowing — you shouldn't be able to default on one because you typically only start repaying once you are employed and earning a certain minimum income.

Driving the news: In an announcement on Thursday, the Flatiron School, a data bootcamp owned by WeWork, said it will fund $100 million in ISAs to future students. Offered in WeWork offices and in online versions, Flatiron courses are $15,000 in tuition.

  • After graduation, you begin repaying the tuition at 10% of your gross salary as long as you are earning $40,000 or more. If you earn, say, $70,000 a year, you would end up repaying $21,500 over approximately five years.
  • "In any month they are not employed or earning the equivalent of $40,000 or more a year, they don't pay. With student loans, you owe regardless of if you work," said Adam Enbar, CEO of the Flatiron School.

The backdrop: The idea of promising a portion of your future income as a form of investment in your potential goes back to 1945, and a book by Nobel laureate economists Milton Friedman and Simon Kuznets.

Many experts call student loan programs a favorable aspect of the U.S. higher education system since they allow students to go as far as they can academically, all the way through a world-class doctorate. "If you are going for a master's degree, there is no limit to what you can borrow. You can do income-based repayment," said Kevin Carey, an expert at New America.

  • But many student also get in over their head, either from borrowing too much or failing to get a job paying enough.
  • So in 2016, Purdue University, reaching back to the Friedman-Kuznets idea, began a still-small trend among universities by offering ISAs to its students.

The bottom line: ISAs are not the answer to the student-debt problem. In a vocational school such as the boot camps, they offer financing for students who cannot afford to pay monthly. Experts say that, in most cases, loans are still the best option for financing college. "Because ISAs are a shiny object, it doesn't mean they are the best option," Carey said.

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The end of quarantine

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Long quarantines were a necessary tool to slow the COVID-19 pandemic during its first phases, but better and faster tests — plus vaccines — mean they can be scaled back considerably.

Why it matters: Quick tests and regular surveillance methods that identify who is actually infectious can take the place of the two-week or longer isolation periods that have been common for travelers and people who might have been exposed to the virus, speeding the safe reopening of schools and workplaces.

Amazon rollups are the hottest deals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A new generation of companies is forming to scoop up Amazon marketplace sellers — and venture capital firms are writing big checks to support the effort.

Why it matters: These e-commerce aggregators are all about data and using it to optimize and turbocharge sales, which means they’re using Amazon’s own playbook.

Trump Justice Department obtained phone records of WashPost reporters

Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former President Trump's Justice Department in 2017 secretly obtained the phone records of three Washington Post reporters, the newspaper revealed Friday.

Between the lines: The reporters — Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Adam Entous — at the time were looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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