Adam Braun believes in a future that’s free from student debt
A series of interesting conversations with interesting people.
Adam Braun firmly believes that education is the enabler to opportunity and it shows. In 2008 he founded Pencils of Promise, a non-profit that has since increased access to education to over 70,000 children in the developing world. If that wasn’t enough, he is tackling the college-debt crisis in the U.S. with the establishment of MissionU, a year-long program that gives students the skills and experience they need to launch a successful career, debt-free. We caught up with Adam to find out more about MissionU, what impact he hopes to make on the world, and what he’s been reading and finding interesting lately.
You are CEO and Co-Founder of MissionU, a brand-new, year-long educational program that charges no tuition until the student lands a job. What inspired you to create MissionU and how did you get it off the ground?
Before MissionU, I created the global education organization, Pencils of Promise, and as the organization grew I wrote a book, The Promise of a Pencil, which became a #1 national bestseller and is used as the Common Read at colleges around the country. I soon found myself speaking at countless colleges about our mission of bringing education to children around the world. At every college, I would hear their struggles with our broken higher education system here in the US. That, combined with witnessing my wife’s struggle to pay back more than $100,000 in student loans, got me obsessed with the idea that there had to be a better way.
After learning student debt is the only debt in the country that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy, my co-founder and CPO, Mike Adams, and I were determined to create a debt-free alternative that embedded real-world job experience and prepared students for today’s careers. Studies indicate that 91% of college freshmen say they’re going to college to improve their employment opportunities and get better jobs, but few professors and college administrators see that as their actual responsibility. MissionU completely aligns with students from Day One and is only successful when our students are.
As of right now, the only major offered at MissionU is data-analytics, and it’s located in the San Francisco Bay Area. How and why was that program developed?
Before we decided on Data Analytics and Business Intelligence as MissionU’s first major, we did an intensive analysis to determine a field that is seeing tremendous growth, high salaries (Data Analysts in SF make on average $91,425 according to Glassdoor) and where those skills weren’t being taught at all on traditional college campuses. The future of work looks drastically different from today, and it’s clear among employers that having a series of degrees on a resume no longer is the most important qualifier to obtaining a job.
MissionU is based in the San Francisco Bay Area because we wanted to be close to today’s top companies, including our employer partners such as Spotify, Lyft, Uber and more.
Will more programs be offered in the future? If so, what will they be and where?
Since we have start dates in January, May and September we have admissions open at all times, right now you can learn more and apply for our January 2018 cohort on Data Analytics and Business Intelligence located in San Francisco. We’re planning on adding an additional cohort city in 2018 and additional majors in the next year and beyond.
MissionU believes a college should invest in their students, rather than vice versa. What does that look like?
To start, it looks like $0 in upfront tuition. Through our trimester system, we’re teaching our students the most in-demand technical and soft skills needed for today’s workforce as well as helping them build a portfolio with our program’s embedded work experience. Through our partnerships with today’s top companies, we’re aligning our students with employers that have early access to hire our grads and advise on curriculum based on best practices in the real-world workplace. We only require students to pay once they are earning $50,000 or more, during which they pay 15% of their income for three years back to MissionU, with no interest rates on top whatsoever.
What type of student, in your opinion, would thrive in the MissionU environment?
Instead of focusing on SAT / ACT or GPA numbers, we hone in on identifying future potential over past test scores. We believe ambitious, driven, results-oriented students who are looking to make a mark on the world would thrive at MissionU.
In addition to MissionU, you founded Pencils of Promise, a non-profit that has built 400 + schools and served more than 70,000 children throughout the developing world. Why did you decide to make the move to MissionU and what does your role look like at Pencils of Promise these days?
I’m incredibly proud of the impact we’ve achieved at Pencils of Promise and the support we’ve garnered for our mission from our supporters around the world. I still work on Pencils of Promise as Founder & Board Emeritus, but my day-to-day focus as a CEO is at MissionU. I made the move because after seeing what was happening in this country, especially as a father of young twins, I wanted to do something to solve our problems here at home. PoP now has an incredible team in place to lead and guide our work in the developing world forward, and I’m thrilled to keep supporting while also being able to address educational needs here in the US through MissionU as well.
Your New York Times bestselling book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, is built around 30 mantras that offer guidance towards a life of purpose. Out of the 30, what mantras hold the most significance to you and why?
My personal favorite is the book’s final mantra, which is not my own original phrase. It’s a phrase by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.” As an entrepreneur and as a father, I love that idea that you should seek out the challenges that make you stretch beyond your comfort zone, because that’s where all the growth and learnings truly live.
All in all, what type of impact do you hope to have with your work?
I’m a firm believer that education is the enabler to opportunity. I hope this work truly transforms lives, and that the positive impact is seen in countless families from one generation to the next.
When do you carve out time to read, and what have you been finding interesting lately?
Most of my reading happens in Pocket, and then on vacation I try to read a few physical books. Lately I’ve been deeply interested in the future of our society and how it’ll impact our lives via education, relationships, energy consumption, etc. Most recently I read “The 100 Year Life” by Lynda Gratton and “How to Sleep” from The Atlantic.
What are your go-to places — sites, apps, people, etc — for finding new stories to read and watch in Pocket?
I actually source a lot of my news from Twitter, so I’ll often grab links from those I follow and immediately save to Pocket for reading later. When I go back and look at the sources of the original articles they tend to be from NPR, Quartz, First Round Review, NY Times, Harvard Business Review and Medium.
If you had the chance to escape and read all of your current Pocket saves where would you go to do it?
I read a ton on Pocket, and still have a backlog of probably more than 500 articles so it would need to be a long trip! Right now I’d really like to visit Japan, so that would be an amazing place to go and dive into some great reading.
Who would you want to see us interview next?
You can find more of what Adam is reading and finding interesting in the quiet corner of the internet here.