IN AN old factory building in lower Manhattan a fintech startup is seeking answers to a question that has tormented teachers and students for decades: what is the value of a given course, teacher or institution? Climb Credit, with just two dozen employees, provides student loans. The programmes it finances bring returns far higher than can be expected from even highly rated universities.

Climb does not claim to nurture billionaires, nor to care much about any of the intangible benefits of education. Rather, it focuses on sharp, quantifiable increases in earnings. The average size of its loans is $10,000 and it normally finances programmes of less than a year. The subjects range from coding to web design, from underwater welding to programming robots for carmakers (which has the highest rate of return). Some students have scant formal education; others advanced degrees. The rate of return they get is calculated as the uplift in earnings after the course of study, minus its cost (which includes that of servicing the loan, and takes account of the absence of earnings during the course).

Climb’s results so far are hardly conclusive. It has…Continue reading