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Access Granted: Frog Design, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Innovative Education Finance Platforms at SOCAP10

Cameron Campbell September 20, 2010

Anew challenge from frog, MTV, the College Board, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asks students to find the most innovative technology to help alleviate the financial burden of college.
Most students realize that to find meaningful jobs or pursue their own entrepreneurial passions they’ll have to get a college degree. In a recent report from Georgetown University, economists project that over 60 percent of jobs in 2018 will require some education or training beyond high school. Yet, entering college today is more difficult than it’s ever been. The pressure of filling out applications, taking entry exams, and actually deciding which college is the best fit for you is enough to trigger an early life crisis. But for many that’s not the biggest concern; it’s money. Paying for college is perhaps the largest obstacle facing prospective freshmen.
Attending college costs far more than it did 30 years ago. The average university asks $60,000 in tuition, and that doesn’t include the price of textbooks or the steep cost of living. For students in low or middle income families, borrowing money is the only alternative, but more are asking if accruing hefty debts so early in life is the best way to get a start. For the first time in US history, college aid debt in the country has surpassed credit card debt — the total is $830 billion. Even if a student decides to invest in higher education, navigating the confusing maze of financial aid options can be a real deterrent.
Ideally, money shouldn’t be a barrier to higher education at all; college should be equally accessible to those seeking knowledge and experience. But until that happens, prospective students ought to at least have an easier time understanding the financial reality of completing college.
My own poor grasp of the subject when I was in college included imagining Sallie Mae as an old woman, hoarding money somewhere. I would huddle with the other students on financial aid at my school to exchange advice on finding hidden scholarships so we could ensure a place in class the following semester. Finding the funding was like another course load of work — and I didn’t get credit for it like the students at Wellesly.
For most young people, there isn’t the time or the guidance needed to dispel the mystifying process of applying for college funds. According to the American Council on Education, 2 million college students don’t even apply for any of the nearly $70 billion in financial aid the government distributes each year.
So frog, MTV, the College Board, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to make sure students are empowered with the information they need to make sense of their financial future. We’ve launched the “Get Schooled College Affordability Challenge.” We’re asking current and aspiring college students to create digital tools that’ll connect students to funding throughout their college experience. The winning design will get a fat prize of $10,000. frog will work with three finalists to realize their ideas through a rapid collaborative design process over a 2-week period. The winner will get $100,000 to develop and bring their ideas to fruition.  To submit ideas you can go here.
In the meantime, if you are looking to hear more solutions to the growing problem of college debt, this year’s Social Capital Conference (SOCAP) features a session, “Innovative Education Finance Platforms.” The panel brings together Kushal Chakrabarti of Vittana, Filipe Vergara of Lumni Finance, and Jordan Meranus of New Schools Venture Fund. I’m hoping they’ll offer alternative ideas on how inserting entrepreneurial thinking into the creation of new economic models can get students out of debt and into the classroom.
-By Kristina Loring (Cross Post from Design Mind Blog)

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