Investing in Students and in Education Globally

While Americans debate whether higher education is worth its steep cost, another movement is quietly taking hold: microfinancing college tuition for students around the world.

Though microfinancing is usually referred to funding small businesses abroad, the Seattle-based non-profit Vittana aims to help students around the world attend post-secondary schools. Rather than lending to individual entrepreneurs, donors offer to pay for students' tuition. You can visit the Vittana website, view students' profiles and educational plans, and loan them small amounts -- $25 or $50 for example -- to pay for their tuition.

At the beginning of the year, Vittana operated in 10 countries. It's now expanded to 15 and plans to hit 18 by the end of the year. Its loan volume has increased accordingly, and 99% of the students have repaid their loans.

According to Vittana CEO and founder Kushal Chakrabarti, it's an effort to demonstrate that "young people are bankable." By investing in students' education -- a "sustainable investment," notes Chakrabarti -- Vittana helps connect students to economic and employment opportunities.

There are no governmental student loan or financial aid programs in most of these students' countries represented on the site. Either they can afford tuition or they can't. And most young people simply can't. In fact, only about one out of every eight young people in developing countries can afford even to finish school. But with just one year of education post-high school, the students who've received Vittana loans have, on average, been able to exponentially increase their income -- from earning $3 a day to earning $8 a day, according to the site.

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Vittana has launched a new campaign today, asking people to address "What does education mean to you?" With all the discussion about how we need to rethink elements of the education system -- in the U.S. and elsewhere -- it's important to remember that for most people around the world, education is not just a privilege, it's a necessity.

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