Impact Stories

Alternative education loans for mainstream success

Clearwater works with non-traditional education programs to provide funding options for students.

Kathryn Kelly, like so many others, was struggling to land a career after graduating college. “I had no savings, and I was stringing together a bunch of part-time jobs just to get by,” she says. “I almost had to move back home.” That’s when she saw an advertisement for Montana Code School (MTCS).

Montana Code School is a not-for-profit immersion learning boot camp offering three- and six-month programs in Missoula and Bozeman. The school teaches students to use the programs and languages required in the well-paying programming jobs that are expanding across Montana. With the Code School’s growing prominence and the help of the school’s career advisors, many students go on to build great careers in the tech industry.

With a year of self-taught coding experience already, Kelly knew the puzzle-like nature of coding was a good fit for her. She enrolled in the MTCS full-time program in the fall of 2017. But enrolling was just the first step. Next came figuring out how to pay for it. “I knew if I was doing the code school, I didn’t want to work at the same time, but the idea of being unemployed for twelve weeks was scary,” she says.

Bridging the funding gap

Highly-focused certificate programs like MTCS are gaining popularity. However, these programs aren’t accredited the same way a traditional undergraduate degree is, so they don’t qualify for federally subsidized loan programs. Without the option of a conventional student loan, certificate programs like MTCS would be financially out of reach for many would-be participants.

Realizing that some students may need help financing the tuition costs, Montana Code School asked Clearwater if we would partner to provide a loan option for its students. The credit union jumped at the opportunity to make a difference. The loan developed by the credit union has lower interest than traditional unsecured consumer loans, and students aren’t required to make any payments until 90 days after graduating from the program. Students of MTCS can also extend the loan by up to $1,500 to help meet the laptop requirements of the program.

“A lot of students either can’t or choose not to work during the program, and the loan offered through Clearwater plays an important role in bridging that gap,” said Clearwater Loan Officer, Katelyn Bykari.

Without the loan from Clearwater, I wouldn’t have been able to attend.

— Kathryn Kelly, Integration Specialist, LumenAd
Montana Code School Graduate, Kathryn Kelly.

“We’ve expanded this loan to fill other alternative education needs. The loan can be used for other programs such as the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, or for obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License.”

“Financing through Clearwater was easy,” Kelly said. “The process was seamless and very fast. It only took a few days to get the loan. Without the loan from Clearwater I wouldn’t have been able to attend.”

After the twelve weeks of intensive training, Kelly applied for a position at LumenAd, a Missoula-based technology company. Fast forward two years, and she is now an Integration Specialist on the LumenAd engineering team.

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