Prize Money for California Colleges to Think Different(ly)

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UPDATE: Here is the DOF’s meeting notice and agenda for the Committee on Awards for Innovation in Higher Education, released on March 9, 2015. Using a rubric, all applications were given a score and grouped into 5 tiers, with tier 1 having the applications with the highest scores and tier 5, the lowest. There were 5 applications in tier 1, 5 applications in tier 2, 4 applications in tier 3, 12 in tier 4 and 32 in tier 5. It was recommended that the committee make awards to the top 14 applications or the first 3 tiers.

California is putting up $50 million in prize money for creative ideas aimed at improving transfer and increasing bachelor degree attainment at the state’s public universities and community colleges. To prompt discussion of possible innovations and to encourage colleges to use this opportunity to think creatively, on Facebook and Twitter (@CalCompetes) we are sharing a wide variety of ideas. The Budget Act of 2014 set aside $50 million in prize money, and we want to make sure that California’s public universities and community colleges come forward with their approaches whether they be imaginative or seemingly routine.

California needs 2.3 million more graduates with bachelor’s degrees or technical training than we are on track to graduate over the next decade. The state will not meet that need without inventive efforts to improve degree completion and transfer. California Competes did not create this prize nor do we have any formal role in its implementation, but we are promoting it because we see it as an opportunity to spur thinking, discussion and action, to make innovation (too often an empty or vague term) more concrete.

According to the Innovation Award official web site, multiple prizes totaling $50 million will go to campuses that have adopted changes aimed at increasing bachelor degree attainment or transfer, without net increases in cost, with the potential for widespread adoption. Any innovation adopted in 2014 is eligible for the prize, and applications are due January 9, 2015.

If there are changes to policies, practices or systems that you think should be highlighted or that deserve consideration, please send them our way by emailing us at In the interest of brainstorming, we are not screening ideas for precise adherence to the contest details; we want to promote discussion about a wide variety of thoughtful concepts and concerns.

Whether or not you have an idea to share with us, please be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@CalCompetes) so you can see the ideas and be a part of the discussion.

Below are the ideas we have posted so far on our Facebook page. Please visit us there to view the discussion and give us your feedback!

#1Instead of placing students into remedial courses based on a test, Long Beach City College works with local high schools to use high school grades instead. As a result, more students are now starting with college-level English and math and are as successful as other students. Is this prize-worthy? 

#2Santa Ana College, California State University, Fullerton, and University of California, Irvine have teamed up to create a K-16 partnership aimed at guiding students from Santa Ana to prepare for and plan on college. Is this prize-worthy? 

#3The Master Plan said UC faculty should “possess the qualities not only of scholars, but of scholar-teachers.” What if UC faculty, in addition to sometimes devoting a term or a year solely to research, also occasionally took on the same teaching load as a Cal State professor (typically 3-4 courses per term rather than the 1-2 that is the norm at UC)? If adopted by a UC campus, would that policy be prize-worthy?

#4 – To improve graduation rates California colleges could look to Georgia State’s GPS Advising System which uses data analytics to discern when students are missing milestones that are critical to timely degree completion. Over 700 types of alerts enable advisors to provide customized outreach to students early, contributing to a 20 percent increase in graduation rates over the past decade.

#5 – In New York City, underprepared community college students who enroll full time are provided with an array of supports, increasing on-time graduation rates dramatically. If a California community college adopted a similar approach, would that be an innovation worthy of the California Innovation Prize?

#6Through its Super Senior project, California State University, Northridge was able to reduce by more than 50 percent the number of seniors with more than 130 units (120 is the usual total needed to graduate). Is this the type of innovation that should get a California Innovation Prize? 

#7 – After a revamp of the developmental math curriculum, not only are #more Cal State Monterey Bay students succeeding, but many formerly “remedial” students are majoring in math or science. Is this the type of innovation that should get a California Innovation Prize?

#8Wondering how to better leverage technology to move students through their course work with better learning outcomes? Several colleges have turned to adaptive technology as one solution. Is integrating adaptive learning into the curriculum worthy of a California Innovation Prize?

#9 – Students earning any of 24 new transfer degrees from California’s community colleges have a guaranteed route to finish in two more years. However, many four-year colleges do not accept the transfer degrees. Cal State Bakersfield accepts all 24 including most options within every major. Is this worthy of a California Innovation Prize?

#10 – University of California, Riverside has  while increasing the enrollment of low-income students. They’ve done this by committing to need-based aid and targeting student support, with strong institutional leadership. Is this an innovation? Is it prize-worthy?

#11 – UC Berkeley offers short-term emergency loans so that unexpected expenses don’t trip up students on their way to a degree. A prize-worthy innovation? More info at

#12 – Provide the option of a 3-year bachelor’s degree. Three-year curriculums could increase the number of students who can be accommodated during a four-year period and reduce institutional costs per student. Is this idea prize-worthy?

#13 – Low-income students frequently face a variety of barriers and are not aware of the programs they could tap for assistance. Single Stop USA’s integrated approach to student advising helps students stay in school by linking them to financial aid and other supports. Is the program at City College of San Francisco worthy of a California Innovation Prize?

#14How can we improve the first year experience to place students on the path to success? Pasadena City College offers a two-week summer Math Jam featuring math activities, structured supplemental support, and orientation to the college. It is designed to be a no-stress way for entering students to experience math success before beginning college. Does this idea deserve the prize?

#15 A degree with all textbooks free? This idea comes from Virginia, where a community college is offering a set of courses leading to an AA degree in business, using 100% open education resources. A California public college or university could adopt this concept and apply for a piece of the $50 million. Is a free textbook program worthy of an innovation prize?

#16 – How can we improve the transition for transfer students? San Diego State’s peer mentoring program was recognized as a promising practice by Excelencia in Education. Could peer mentoring give the support, information and guidance needed to help transfer students succeed? Is this idea deserving of the prize?

#17 – A common final for mandatory algebra classes. By having a common final exam in its intermediate algebra classes, Glendale Community College is able to better assess the effectiveness of different instructional methods. Could this be a winning innovation?

#18 – Could we better asses colleges effectiveness if we establish a framework for what a college degree means and what a student should be expected to know upon graduation? The president of CSU Fullerton recently took part in a discussion of defining the learning that a college degree should represent. Does her leadership idea deserve part of the $50 million? 

#19 – Too many students end up at for-profit colleges when there are better and cheaper options, even online ones, available at community colleges or at the UC or CSU extensions. The problem is that the publics don’t do a good job reaching out to and reeling in those students. Why not borrow from North Carolina and then apply for the California Innovation Prize?

#20 – How many of our Pell Grant students are the same students who were eligible for free and reduced lunch in high school? Start simple and give the nine million on Pell Grants a peanut butter sandwich at school every day. Is this idea prize-worthy?

#21 – A Trojan-Bruin partnership broadening the reach of online games as a tool of college access and success. There is still time before the prize application deadline for UCLA to reach out to USC, which was the only California winner of a recent federal innovation competition (the California prize is not available to private colleges). Is this idea worthy of the prize?

#22Face-to-face human connection counts for a lot in college success. Prize idea #22 is that personal touch. Could this idea win part of the $50 million?

#23 – How about making work study more meaningful? Idea #23 is modeled after U of Iowa’s GROW Program, which engages supervisors and their student employees in structured conversations about their work and how it relates to their academic studies and career goals. Why not borrow from Iowa and apply for the #CAInnovationPrize ?

#24To make sure that undergraduates do meaningful and creative intellectual work, UCLA has been increasing the use of senior capstone projects. Could prize idea #24 be the winner?

#25 – Providing support to students at community colleges who intend to transfer to a four-year college is crucial. UC Berkeley is reportedly tackling this issue with their prize innovation which creates a transfer partnership with five bay area community colleges (Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, De Anza College, Laney College and Merritt College). Could this be a winner?

#26 – Maybe California can borrow from Maryland by incorporating MOOCs and OLI into some courses. Hybrid classes have produced outcomes comparable to (or a little better than) traditionally taught courses and with much less class time. Is this worthy of the prize?

#27 – As part of its first-year program, Chico State engages students in a massive town hall to discuss and debate current issues. Does this innovation deserve a piece of the $50mil?

#28Funded by venture capital, this program aims to steer community college students to top colleges. So far no California institutions are participating — if adopted, could this be a winner?

#29A $5 million Robin Hood Prize will be going to the best tech tool for college success. Semi-finalists have been chosen already. Committing to adopt one of them would make for a compelling application for the California prize. Is this a winning innovation?

#30 – SF State created an intervention program to help students’ recognize that they are not alone in their insecurities, so they don’t give up. This idea, which will deliver a stream of email and SMS messaging throughout the year to change the norms around the freshman year experience and to encourage a positive self-appraisal, is being rigorously tested by Ideas42. Could this win a prize?

#31 –  In order to discourage shopping for easy A’s, some universities have begun to include the grade distribution of courses on transcripts so that employers can see if a graduate took a lot of easy-A courses. Do you think a California college could win a piece of the $50 million if they adopted this and applied?

#32 – UC Santa Cruz offers students who complete the first year of community college a guaranteed route to transfer as juniors. This fits well many of the criteria for the Innovation Prize – could it be a winner?

#33 – Students learn more when they role-play history instead of listening to a lecture. Cal State East Bay is one campus implementing the “reacting to the past” program. Is this innovation prize-worthy?

#34 – At Long Beach State, advisors reach out to juniors and seniors to make sure they are on track to complete all the courses and steps to graduation. Graduation Green Light uses data to find barriers to graduation which guides campus decisions. Should Long Beach State win a prize for this innovation?

#35 – Mount SAC’s Student Roadmap for Success is an interactive, web-based tool that provides students with vital information regarding support services and high impact practices.

You can provide feedback or view the discussion about these ideas by visiting

Issues: More College Degrees