Sumaira had completed two years of college when she realized the traditional post-secondary path wasn’t for her. The lectures felt impersonal, her professors distant, her classmates unfamiliar. But she was always taught that a college degree is the best way to continue learning and growing, and to earn a level of income that offered an opportunity to move up to the middle class. She felt trapped.
Then her cousin told her about The Marcy Lab School, a higher education alternative serving primarily Black and Hispanic communities and offering the skills to land high-paying software engineering jobs. Since 2019, the one-year, tuition-free program has been producing graduates who are landing jobs making in excess of $100K per year. The school’s fellows graduate as debt-free teenagers on the cusp of earning six-figure salaries. In essence, Marcy is more than a social ladder; it is a socioeconomic elevator helping underrepresented young people ascend the ranks of society.
Marcy Lab co-founders Reuben Ogbonna, an aspiring financial professional turned teacher, and fellow educator Maya Bhattacharjee, started the school in 2019 as a counter to the conventional wisdom that a college degree is necessary for white-collar success. They established the school as a non-profit and invite philanthropic support to run their program with no cost for students, offering scholarships and stipends to allow them to fully focus on their studies.
“We are hoping to confront three systemic issues within traditional post-secondary education: the student-loan debt crisis, underrepresentation, and social mobility,” said Reuben. When working in New York City high schools, Reuben noticed students constantly grappling with the same tradeoff: taking out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to attend their dream school or sacrificing that dream to save money by attending a low-cost college that is closer to home.
He described their target demographic as “the untapped middle,” the graduating students who may be interested in college but can’t quite afford it.
To some, it is surprising that candidates without post-secondary diplomas can earn prestigious positions, but the proof lies with Marcy. The school’s graduates – who are as young as 19 years old -- have moved on to jobs at Spotify, J.P. Morgan, the New York Times, Asana, and Squarespace, to name a few.
Marcy started with nine fellows in 2019, then expanded to 30 in 2021. This year, Marcy’s attendance sits at 55, and they will see 100 young people split between both of next year’s cohorts. Reuben and Maya hope to expand their school to one day be its own full-scale college alternative, with curriculum choices rivaling established universities. “We hope to make this low-debt, high-earnings, higher-education model more mainstream,” Reuben says.
Mizuho is proud to support this bold initiative.
"Marcy Lab School’s strategy and impressive results are a wonderful fit for the Mizuho USA Foundation,” explained Lesley Palmer, Managing Director of Community Relations at Mizuho Americas. “They match the Foundation’s objectives of funding innovative programs that assist unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers in gaining skills supporting economic mobility."
The Marcy Labs School is located in Industry City, Brooklyn. Its students must be accepted to the program through an application process. For those looking to volunteer, the school is in need of mentors, a one-year, 1-2 hour per month commitment where experienced engineers and technical professionals develop a 1:1 relationship with a fellow as they navigate the program and kick off their career. For more information on enrollment at the Marcy Labs School visit: https://www.marcylabschool.org/apply. For information on volunteering, please contact Jorge Hadad Rey, at [email protected].