Will This Big New Prize Find a Way To Boost Graduation Rates for Struggling CUNY Students?

Concocting big new prizes is a hot trend in philanthropy right now, as is tackling the high college dropout rate. So, hey, why not a big prize that aims to help kids get through college?

In March 2014, the Robin Hood Foundation started taking applications for $5 million in prize money for technology solutions to the dismal completion rates of community college students.

The good news is that it really is a prize—versus a grant—that can be used any in way the winner wants. The bad news is that nobody will see big money for a while.

“The Robin Hood College Success Prize” is designed to introduce new tools to increase the graduation rate of students taking remedial courses at community colleges of the City University of New York. The competition has three rounds including a Random Controlled Trial (RCT) that lasts three years.

Staged funding, mentorship, and press is available to the top 20 semi-finalists, and additional development monies are awarded if certain goals for persistence are achieved each year.

The RCT will be conducted with 2,000 CUNY students who meet the criteria for the trial, which includes needing remedial courses, are first-time freshmen, and enrolled full time. Each finalist gets 500 students (with a 500 student control group) to boost graduation rates.

Read the rules and the FAQ’s on the website before you apply. They’re very specific, including a restriction stating that “scalable technology” cannot involve any intervention that requires the use of a counselor, mentor or other staff as part of the solution (except an available CUNY employee) and your solution cannot cost more than $500.00 per student to implement.

Robin Hood is partnering with Ideas42, a nonprofit behavioral economics consultant, to design the prize and coach the entrants. Finalists are not required to use their services, but have access to their research if they want it.

“College Success” is one of a number of new prize competitions that Robin Hood will be rolling out after raising $19 million to fund a prize series at its 2012 annual benefit. If this prize works (and there is no guarantee there will be a winner), it could yield a model to be scaled up. No award will be made to any technological solution if it doesn’t achieve a minimum of a 15 percent improvement in the three-year graduation rates of students above a control group.

Anything that does work could help the close to seven million enrolled students in community colleges who currently only complete 26 percent of the time. At City University of New York, only 40 percent of students graduate within six years.

Michael Weinstein, chief program officer for Robin Hood, said in the announcement of the program, “Let’s go to the brightest minds in the country and invent new ways to get students through to graduation.”

For more information and applications, taken through June 30, 2014, see: http://www.robinhood.org/prize