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TSIC Rally in Tally

Monroe County TSIC students
Monroe County TSIC students

Earlier this week, Katrina Wiatt (MHS Success Coach) and Chuck Licis (Take Stock Coordinator) went to Tallahassee to participate in the Take Stock in Children Rally in Tally. The two met with Casey Fisher at Florida Prepaid, then with Tadarrayl Starke, Director of the CARE (Center for Academic Retention and  Enhancement) at FSU who reviewed the program. It’s important to note that Monroe County has had several TSIC students enter FSU through the CARE program, which provides outstanding support throughout their college career at FSU. And, Monday evening, Katrina and Chuck met with a dozen TSIC students attending FSU and FAMU for dinner.


John Padget speaks in Tallahassee
John Padget speaks in Tallahassee

Tuesday morning, under cloudy skies and in a chilly 50 degree north wind, hundreds of Take Stock scholars, parents, and mentors gathered around the steps of the historic capitol building to celebrate Take Stock’s 20thanniversary. Governor Rick Scott began the rally with his opening remarks, followed by presentations and introductions by each of the six Leaders for Life Fellows, speeches from several senators and representatives, and a speech from our president emeritus, John Padget.

Prior to the rally, Katrina and Chuck met with Senator Dwight Bullard to discuss Monroe County’s TSIC program and ask for his continued support. Following the rally, the two attended an informative workshop on mentor recruitment and retention during which participants shared great ideas. Tuesday evening, they had the opportunity to attend a reception which honored the TSIC alumni of the year as well as hear from FDOE Commissioner Pam Stewart, State University System of Florida Chancellor Marshall Criser, former chancellor Frank Brogan, and a few more FL senators.

Katrina, Senator Bullard, and Chuck
Katrina, Senator Bullard, and Chuck









Wednesday morning, John and Take Stock in Children founder Don Pemberton were honored as Champions of Education. Senator Bullard was in attendance to recognize John for his accomplishments and present him the award.

On behalf of the Monroe County Education Foundation board, we congratulate and salute John Padget for his ongoing commitment and passion to Monroe County Education!

Congratulations John!

John Padget at the Podium
John Padget at the Podium

How Do You Solve the Toughest Problems in Higher Ed? (Read on…)

February 2, 2015
How Do You Solve the Toughest Problems in Higher Ed? Offer Big Prizes
Walla Walla Community College
Prizes are gaining favor in higher education. Walla Walla Community College was a co-winner of the Aspen Prize in 2013, in part for its responsiveness to labor-market needs in its region. The college’s efforts included the establishment of an enology and viticulture program.
By Goldie Blumenstyk
New York City
The idea of dangling big prize money for an innovative achievement was popularized in aviation­—think Charles Lindbergh chasing the $25,000 Orteig Prize with his Spirit of St. Louis’s nonstop flight from New York to Paris, and space enthusiasts aiming for the $10-million X Prize for achieving a suborbital flight of rockets in 2004. Today higher education is increasingly trying the prize approach to achieve policy goals that seem as challenging as that trans-Atlantic flight did back in 1927, like helping academically unprepared students make it through community college within three years.
On Monday the most lucrative prize to date in higher education will have the spotlight. That’s when the Robin Hood Foundation, in New York City, announces which of 18 semifinalists will get the go-ahead to compete for its prize worth up to $5-million for raising persistence and graduation rates among community-college students.
“We’re looking for solutions that would not appear if you did not hold out a $5-million pot of gold,” says Michael M. Weinstein, chief program officer at Robin Hood,an anti­poverty philanthropy that is known for a donor base heavy on Wall Street big hitters. It’s a deliberately “gaudy prize” in value, Mr. Weinstein says, because the foundation hopes the dollar amount will “bring it to the attention of people who didn’t even think of themselves as being in the education business or the community-college business.”
The foundation’s College Success Prize will be awarded based on the results of a three-year randomized controlled trial involving up to 2,000 students at the City University of New York.
The Robin Hood prize is the most generous of the prizes aimed at higher education, but it’s part of a growing trend. The Aspen Institute’s $1-million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the $1-million Talent Dividend Prize sponsored by the Kresge Foundation and others for consortia that raised degree attainment in their communities, and the $50-million California will give away for Awards for Innovation in Higher Education this year are among the other prizes designed to prod colleges to change.
“We are at a moment in higher education where we are moving from inputs to outputs in assessment of quality,” says Josh Wyner, who is executive director of Aspen’s College Excellence program and who oversees the institute’s biennial prize. “A prize requires you to set standards,” Mr. Wyner says. “A lot of these prizes are aiming to reset the standards for what excellence looks like.”
Aspen first awarded its prize in 2011, to Valencia College. In 2013 the co-winners were Santa Barbara City College and Walla Walla Community College. It will announce the 2015 prize winner in March.
More for the Money
While both grants and prizes can be competitive and are designed to effect change, prizes work differently. They’re more about looking backward to recognize success (like the Aspen Prize) or to reward movement toward specific achievements (like Robin Hood’s College Success Prize), while a grant provides money to carry out good work or test a theory. And according to those who sponsor them, prizes can often accomplish what grants cannot.
Sponsors of the Talent Dividend Prize, for example, say they were able to get more for their money in the way of degree attainment by using $1-million as a prize than if they had put that same amount toward, say, college scholarships. “One million dollars is four B.A.’s in an elite private college,” says William F.L. Moses, managing director of the education program at the Kresge Foundation, which financed the prize.
Instead, the prize competition prompted activity in 57 different regions of the country involving hundreds of colleges, school districts, philanthropies, and business and civic groups. “You can generate an enthusiasm and effort within people’s own resources,” says Mr. Moses. The Akron, Ohio, region was named the winner of the three-year competition in October.
Josh Wright, executive director of ideas42, a nonprofit organization that applies its expertise in behavioral sciences to social problems and that helped Robin Hood design its prize competition, says getting wide participation was especially important for the College Success Prize. That is because the problem that prize is focused on—overcoming the odds of poor persistence among many students with remedial-education needs—is so intractable.
For “moon-shot problems” where the solution isn’t known, he says, “you want to get more players and innovators engaged in it.”
For its competition, which began with 104 entrants and then was winnowed to 18 semifinalists in August, Robin Hood did not specify what approach the contenders should take except that their ideas needed to be products or approaches that are scalable and don’t add to the cost of education. Most of the 18 semifinalists proposed apps or other technology-based solutions. Mr. Weinstein says it may be that the best solutions are those aimed more at motivation rather than hard skills.
“We want a winner,” says Mr. Weinstein, but he notes that the prize rules set a high bar. The randomized trial starts in the fall of 2015. After the first year, teams that can show an increase in persistence of full-time students that is at least 10 percentage points better than that of the control group will win $500,000.
After the 2016-17 academic year, the team or teams that can show an increase in the two-year graduation rate that is at least five percentage points better than that of the control group will win $1-million. The final prize, of $3.5- to $5-million (depending on how much is given out during the previous rounds), will go to the team that raises three-year completion rates by at least 15 percentage points above the rate for the control group.
“I don’t know if anybody is going to win this,” says Mr. Weinstein.
‘Honey Over Vinegar’
One problem with prizes, of course, is that they can focus splashy attention on finding new ideas, rather than highlighting approaches that may actually work but have yet to catch on.
While prize advocates acknowledge that, many say the education sector is still a long way from having all the answers, and the “honey over vinegar” approach does have its advantages. The vinegar approach can get attention, but instead of getting institutions to improve “out of pride and prestige,” it promotes “a sort of cynicism and anger toward the system,” says Robert M. Shireman, director of California Competes, an organization that promotes higher-education reform.
For Robin Hood, an organization backed by hedge-fund traders, the emphasis on hard-and-fast targets is typical, says Mr. Weinstein. The foundation has also helped establish a social-services program known as Accelerated Study in Associate Programs on several CUNY campuses. The program, which provides academic, financial, and personal support, has helped to nearly double participants’ graduation rates within three years. But it costs about $5,000 per student, Mr. Weinstein says, “so it’s not scalable.”
Prizes have some other advantages. Not only can they shift the conversation to the positive from the negative, in the case of community colleges, says Mr. Wyner, of the Aspen Institute. They can also help elevate a sector that is “consistently bashed for its outcomes.” He says the process of competing can also help the institutions, and then “we spend a huge amount on publicizing the winner­—both who they are and what they do.”
But while prize competitions can themselves be constructive, prizes sometimes arise from other motivations.
“Part of it also comes from frustration,” says Mr. Shireman, of California Competes, which has encouraged colleges to apply for the prizes. “Policy makers feel every time they plead with higher education to do something better, the answer is, ‘You’re going to have to give us more money.’”
The competition for $50-million in innovation prizes in California is open to public colleges that improve their four-year graduation rates and ease transfers through the systems. And there was no hiding the frustration that Gov. Jerry Brown felt when he proposed the prizes: “As the state reinvests in higher education, it cannot fund the business‑as‑usual model of providing instruction at its higher-education institutions.”
Fifty-seven colleges and consortia applied for the prizes by the January deadline. A state committee is set to meet on the prizes in March. Governor Brown, a Democrat, has also proposed an additional $25-million in prizes for the 2015-16 year, with a focus on California State University campuses that provide “more timely degree completion.”
The federal government has also begun using prizes to spur change, but a glance at the official website for such competitions, Challenge.gov, shows few examples from the Department of Education. And one of the Obama administration’s most vocal advocates for the use of prizes both in and outside of government says the department and higher education have lagged.
“I would say it’s still underutilized,” especially when compared to fields like global health, says Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “There are a lot of other areas that have been a lot more proactive and have seen great results.”
Mr. Kalil says some aspects of education, such as developmental mathematics, would be obvious candidates for a prize competition because they could bring together “what the gaming industry knows about what makes something compelling and exciting” with the expertise of instructional designers and specialists in learning analytics.
Goldie Blumenstyk writes about the intersection of business and higher education. Check out www.goldieblumenstyk.com for information on her new book about the higher-education crisis; follow her on Twitter @GoldieStandard; or email her at goldie@chronicle.com.