Innovation Challenge 2018: Announcing the Winners

We are excited to announce the winners of the Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge. Through this challenge, we called upon educators, students, policymakers, industry leaders, technology developers, and the public to develop bold ideas to reimagine what the higher education ecosystem will look like in 2030 and concrete actions that we can take today to move us in that direction. These bold ideas would ensure all learners, regardless of background, can acquire the skills they need to find meaningful work and live fulfilling, economically stable lives. The concrete actions would be pilots or partnerships that could be implemented immediately and would make transformative impact on the way we work and learn.

We focused on three opportunity areas that we consider ripe for innovation: curating lifelong learning pathways that support learners in obtaining rewarding work; creating a marketplace for learning that enables students to effectively track and share the skills they acquire; and leveraging emerging technology to improve individual learning.

The response from the public was tremendous and the competition was tough. Our 18 judges poured over 160 proposals that differed in approach, but were each imaginative, thoughtful, and impactful to identify 25 finalists. We then asked the public to vote for which of the 25 finalists’ visions and pilots resonated most by “investing” in these pilots using “edu2030-coin”, a fictitious virtual currency.

The 160 proposals demonstrated the different ways that a vibrant society and thriving economy could honor the increasing diversity of our country and empower all individuals to be active participants in our shared society. Across the 160 proposals, including the 10 winning teams, several common themes emerged:

  • New models for learning that extend the university experience and provide engaging opportunities for diverse learners across a spectrum of ever changing needs
  • Partnerships as the foundation of an active learning ecosystem, with companies, institutions, new providers, and local employers each making diverse but critical contributions to support learners
  • Artificial intelligence to direct learners through their journeys, curating pathways to allow them to achieve diverse career and learning goals
  • Blockchain infrastructure as the backbone for innovations in learner passports that hold skills data across personalized and lifelong learning pathways and tools that allow better alignment of competencies and learning resources

10 winning ideas

After all this, we are pleased to announce 10 winning teams of the Reimagining the Higher Education Ecosystem Challenge. These 10 winners will each receive a customized set of support from the Department and its partners in the public and private sectors that we hope will enable them to launch these pilot programs and further develop their visions. In addition, two of these teams, AudaciousYou and Inspire!, have the added distinction of raising the most edu2030-coin capital and winning the public vote. The public choice winners will win tickets to the 2019 ASU+GSV Summit.

A focus on equity and educational opportunity

How might we empower people to design their own learning journeys so they can lead purposeful and economically stable lives? Technological innovations have fueled rapid changes in the ways in which we experience the world and interact with each other. However, these changes have potential to create further inequity in our society, impacting low-income communities, immigrants and first- generation learners, and others traditionally overlooked by our existing postsecondary system and who can least afford it. In this context, it is imperative that we enable all individuals to quickly and continuously acquire new skills and new knowledge, and find the opportunity to use these to them meaningfully.

The two public choice winners provide a vision and model for how we can work together now to ensure that our postsecondary system is flexible enough to help all people to navigate through the changing economic landscape, empowering them to thrive in their jobs, and find the tools they need to advance in their careers and along education paths.

Inspire, a JetBlue Scholars program, enables all JetBlue Airways employees to complete or obtain a bachelor’s degree for little or no cost. Their partnerships with a traditional college and online content providers have resulted in a platform that provides high-quality learning content as short modules that can be accessed at any time, allowing learners to balance their obligations at work and at home.

FutureFit imagines a Google Maps for the future of work and learning. By focusing on the destinations, FutureFit puts the learner’s journey in the center and incentivizes learning providers including colleges, MOOCs, bootcamps, tutors, etc, to compete and collaborate with one another offer the most effective and efficient solutions and supports to help people arrive at their destinations.

The work continues

The US Department of Education is excited to continue the conversation about the future of the higher education ecosystem and to support the work of the winners and finalists as they begin implementation of their pilots. We look forward to engaging with a broader set of stakeholders in the months to come. If anyone is interested in supporting one of the teams or has ideas for additional steps, please email us at [email protected].

Finally, we would like to thank all of the thousands of people who visited the challenge platform, commented on ideas, and submitted challenges of their own. We look forward to ongoing dialogue with you all.

In their own words


It is our conviction that in the future, the most successful higher education institutions will have resisted the call to reduce their work into sheer skill-distribution or knowledge creation. Instead, they will re-imagine themselves as convening spaces where the interests of students, industries, and the public converge. The special alchemy that higher education institutions can deliver in this potentially conflictive context is in managing these multiple relationships and commitments concerning deep history and broad expertise, working with multiple parties to identify both the durable qualities we want in ethical, creative leadership and a dynamic openness to re-skilling at an affordable level. Colleges that hope to bring constituencies together and fashion a future where all economic and social strata thrive, must do so by viewing their work on a lifelong and society-wide scale.

EdRec: Next Gen by Design

It doesn’t have to be this way. Due to decades of education data standardization efforts as well as the emergence of some promising new technologies and protocols for trusted, distributed data and identity management, we have the opportunity to rapidly change the status quo and empower the individual learner with access to and control over their own education records across systems and institutions. A high school student, with the click of a button on her phone, could allow her verifiable e-diploma to be accessed by a local college for using a new multi-measure approach to enrollment. A community college student could share their comprehensive learner record with a career counseling application that provides instantaneous personalized recommendations for both transfer programs and job opportunities in their area. A state college graduate could allow a talent sourcing application to automatically make an offer for a local employer based on her verified credentials. This form of individually-controlled verifiable student record would drive innovation and could help turn the rapidly growing data economy from an engine of inequality to and engine of shared prosperity, equality of opportunity and increased individual efficacy.

Modern Campus

Modern Campus is compelled by the vision of a higher education system more affordable, tech-enabled, omnichannel, and career-aligned, but also more globally, socially, intellectually, and culturally enriching. We believe the best way to usher in this innovation is to provide opportunities for modern learners (those enrolled in online degree and certification tracks, digital skill bootcamps, career accelerators, etc.) to have the kinds of experiences that can make learning so powerful – like, living away from home, having rich social experiences, or immersing oneself in other cultures – all within the confines of a supportive, structured environment.

We’re building a future where students will sequence together a series of experiences – taking a MOOC, going on a leadership retreat, learning how to code, etc. – over the course of their lives and through a network of campuses; and we recognize various educational travel, study abroad, and hospitality companies, as well as eco-lodges, summer camps, and urban/organic farms as uniquely positioned to be the physical infrastructure – or “Agoras”, if you will – for this global campus network.


In 2030, we will be migrating towards an education ecosystem that delivers personalized learning — learning based on user preferences and needs — that is consumed in small chunks throughout a person’s lifetime, while being combined with task-based work to validate mastery.

Identity or Profile as a Service: People will start to create, own, and manage their personal data, leading to the development of robust individual profiles that education service providers are able to consume as a service. These profiles will contain all kinds of data about the person, such as learning preferences, learning history, work history, personality traits, hard skills, and soft skills. By providing these profiles to education institutions, services, and peers as a service, individuals will be able to receive a highly focused and personalized learning experience, while also potentially earning money for the data that he/she provides.

IT For Everyone

In an era in which lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative, there is a growing willingness among those in the postsecondary education sector to recognize that learning happens everywhere. By 2030, a new ecosystem will emerge of providers and standards that is framed around skills and competencies; leverages prior learning assessment; and allows learners to stack credentials and earn academic credit for work-based learning. Truly realizing the potential of this ecosystem will require thoughtful collaboration across a wide set of players — including policymakers and regulators, who over the last few years have increasingly considered the role of non-institutional providers of education. It is a false dichotomy to pit industry-based credentials against academic learning — rather, we are in a world of growing collaboration and the blurring of traditional boundaries in the second machine age.


The education ecosystem of 2030 is likely to be both strikingly similar and utterly unrecognizable to what we see, learn from, teach in, and advocate for today. Bootcamp-university hybrids, algorithm-driven space sharing agreements, discipline-specific micro-schools, AI-driven instruction/courses, and perhaps most noticeable and widespread, new ways of validating the knowledge and/or skills such an ecosystem is meant to provide. This 2030 ecosystem will still be an evolving landscape rife with legacy systems, slow-rotting infrastructural computer code, and all-too-familiar conversations (and perhaps challenges) regarding how we will prepare future generations for the ever-changing technological revolution looming just over the horizon. History after all, does tend to repeat itself.

Sharon Leu and David Soo are Sr. Policy Advisors at the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.

Continue the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Cross-posted at the OET blog.