New York, NY—Last Friday, three Finalists—Beyond 12, the Education Advisory Board and Kinvolved—were announced for the Robin Hood College Success Prize. The Prize is designed to find the most promising interventions that are capable of helping community college students with remedial needs—those at greatest risk of dropping out—continue their studies and attain their associate degree. The innovative and scalable tools designed by the Finalists will be put into the field in Fall 2015 and undergo a three-year randomized control trial. The winning intervention will be determined if it is proven to raise the graduation rate of full-time students with remedial needs by fifteen percentage points in three years, roughly doubling the current rate.

“MyCoach translates the most effective actions of a coach, like motivation and nudges, to a highly scalable mobile platform,” said Alexandra Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12. “The MyCoach app is a direct result of a personal conviction and commitment to ensure that other students don’t face the same struggles that I did.”

“Consequences of mistakes made in onboarding compound and cascade across a student’s entire college career. This is why our solution focuses on upfront intervention to support and guide students towards their goals,” said Catherine Shaw, principal, EAB Strategic Planning at The Advisory Board Company. “We are honored to be able to work with CUNY, Robin Hood and ideas42 to prove the efficacy of our approach.”

“Attendance—or lack thereof—is the first and easiest indicator that there might be a problem. If students don’t show up to class, their chances of achieving academically are diminished,” said Alexandra Meis, co-founder and chief product officer for Kinvolved. “Our app uses attendance as an indicator of major problems that may be preventing students from succeeding. Our goal is to link them efficiently with the resources they need to get back to class every day and on the path to success.”

It’s an unfortunate fact that millions of students who graduate from high school simply aren’t ready for college-level work. In order to catch up to their college-ready peers, they must take and pass remedial classes, which can cost the same amount as full-credit courses but do not count for college credit, which means that these students are spending valuable (and in most cases, limited) financial resources just to get to the starting line in college. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many students struggle or drop-out, unable to obtain their degree and earn a higher wage and a rewarding career. In the United States, individuals who obtain an associate degree will earn roughly $10,000 more per year than college students who drop out.

Robin Hood—New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization—recognizes that education is the key to living a life free from poverty. “As part of our strategy to help the 1.8 million New Yorkers who live in grinding poverty day in and day out, Robin Hood develops and tests bold, audacious programs—nascent programs that hold out tremendous potential to transform the well-being of our worst-off neighbors,” said Michael Weinstein, economist and chief program officer of Robin Hood. “With the Robin Hood College Success Prize, we deliberately set the bar high—doubling the graduation rate of remedial students at minimal per-student cost—because we know that if we actually achieve this ambitious target, we will meaningfully improve the lives of countless individuals not only in New York but also across the country and around the world.”

The finalists were chosen from more than 100 applicants from the U.S. and a dozen countries around the world. These were then narrowed to 18 semi-finalist teams in August 2014; each team received $40,000 in funding to help further develop their products and an invitation to participate in an interactive workshop with ideas42, the leading non-profit behavioral ideas lab, to help them trouble-shoot and improve their entries using the latest insights from behavioral science.

The finalists are:

  • Beyond 12: The Beyond 12 “MyCoach” app helps students keep track of deadlines and milestones, and, based on the college students are attending, provides them with personalized tools and tips to help navigate their college experience. Students receive automated alerts (mimicking the nudges from a live coach) on their mobile devices that include links to the campus resources available to help them complete certain tasks. In addition, the app allows students to record completion of tasks; motivates students, in the form of points and badges, for skill and knowledge mastery; and encourages students to share their experiences with peers. Ultimately, MyCoach will bridge the information gap and help students master the activities, behaviors and habits that increase their success in college and beyond.
  • Education Advisory Board: The road to success at community college starts before a student’s first day of classes; it starts as soon as they apply. To give every student her or his own personalized pathway to success, EAB (a division of The Advisory Board Company) has built a platform that marries goals with outcomes, life with school, and needs with resources all to ensure that students stay on track through all of life’s ups and downs.
  • Kinvolved: Kinvolved is improving graduation rates of community college students with an app to increase attendance and real-time communication among student support networks.

“I’m excited about each semi-finalist’s innovative work and their commitment to helping improve the educational and economic prospects for students in need,” said Phil Oreopoulos, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Toronto and one of the judges for the Prize. “The tools developed by our three finalists have the potential to not only help college students graduate in a more timely manner, but could conceivably be applied to individuals already in the work-force who want to improve their skills and move up the ladder to better paying jobs, regardless of where they work or live. I’m sure there are a myriad of other ways these programs can be put to use to improve people’s lives, and that’s what makes this Prize so exciting.”

To prove their merit, the Finalists will be evaluated in a randomized-control trial that will run for three years, beginning with the Fall 2015 freshman class at CUNY. The Grand Prize of $3.5 million will be awarded – if at all — to the team whose product increases the three-year graduation rate of CUNY students who place into remedial courses by 15 percentage points, essentially doubling the current rate. Two intermediate awards for improving year-over-year student persistence ($500,000) and 2-year graduation rates ($1 million) will also be offered during the randomized controlled trial, for a grand total of $5 million in prizes. In addition, the three finalists will each receive $60,000 in development funds and the opportunity to take advantage of additional one-on-one behavioral advising from ideas42.

“When we first announced the College Success Prize in March of last year, we could not have hoped for such strong responses from developers, students and academics,” said Joshua Wright, executive director of ideas42. “It’s safe to say that we are thrilled with the imagination of the semi-finalists and the quality of their technological solutions. We at ideas42 believe that our three finalists have produced truly groundbreaking ideas. We will continue to work with the finalists as they prepare for testing in the field to make sure they have the greatest possible opportunity to help more students earn a degree and start on a pathway to a more prosperous and stable livelihood.”

“For generations, CUNY has helped millions of students gain the skills, confidence and credentials they need to build exciting careers and fulfilling lives for themselves and their families. The more students who earn a degree, the greater their chances for success – and the success of their children – later in life. CUNY is excited to partner with Robin Hood and ideas42 on the Robin Hood College Success Prize,” said John Mogulescu, senior university dean for academic affairs and dean of the school of professional studies. “The Prize focuses more energy and ideas on students whose full academic and professional potential can be realized, starting with community college degree completion.”

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