SALT LAKE CITY – WGU Labs Inc., an affiliate of online nonprofit Western Governors University, today announced an Accelerator partnership with Funding U, a financial technology company serving low-income students who have long been ignored by traditional lending institutions.
Funding U has upended the FICO-based lending model by focusing on students’ academic performance, not the trappings of generational wealth. Through its groundbreaking SMaRT™ analysis, which focuses on non-credit factors within students’ control, Funding U provides “last gap” microloans of $3,000 to $10,000.
“Last gap” microloans are a vital source of bridge financing that empower students to complete college without having to meet a FICO threshold or rely on a co-signer—traditional borrower requirements that often force students without strong credit histories to drop out of school, thus perpetuating the seemingly intractable college opportunity gap.
“College completion is a complex puzzle, particularly for low- or moderate-income students paying their own way through school,” said Jeannie Tarkenton, Founder and CEO of Funding U. “We aim to solve one piece of this puzzle by removing funding roadblocks for students routinely dismissed by banks as not worth the risk.”
After proving the creditworthiness of its initial cohort of students, 65% of whom are Pell eligible, Funding U hopes to continue to refine its SMaRT™ scoring system to open credit markets to the hundreds of thousands of students who need gap financing but are unable to secure a co-signed loan. WGU Labs will help Funding U identify and reach more students who can benefit from their services.
“Banks and other lenders have historically been neutral players in a credit market blind to social injustice,” Tarkenton said. “We now expect these gatekeepers to help level the playing field for students who are always fighting uphill.”
“Funding U is challenging lenders to redefine how they evaluate student borrowers,” said Todd Bloom, Managing Director of the Accelerator at WGU Labs. “We’re eager to demonstrate the sustainability of rewarding students for their hard work and persistence, not family wealth.”
Funding U is the eighth partner to work with Accelerator at WGU Labs since its inception in 2019. To learn more about Accelerator at WGU Labs and its partners, visit www.wgulabs.org/startup-services.