Big bucks for students with big ideas

A big prize for University of Pennsylvania graduates

The Philadelphia Enquirer has a good story about an initiative at the University of Pennsylvania for graduates who want to change the world:

Graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a strong desire to change the world and an excellent plan for how to do it?A new Penn program may fund you.Penn president Amy Gutmann has created “engagement prizes” of up to $150,000 – $50,000 for living expenses and $100,000 for project execution – for students with the most promising plans to improve local, national, or global conditions in the year after their graduation.”We want to maximize the encouragement we can give our students who do well by doing good in the world,” Gutmann said Tuesday.

Money for something

Money for something

It’s perhaps not an entirely novel idea but the scale of it is impressive:

While other schools offer prizes, Penn’s effort appears to offer more money..”I don’t know of anything that’s even close to that big,” said Jeffrey Selingo, author of College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students and a contributing editor to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Gutmann said she wanted to create a prize on the order of the prestigious Rhodes or Marshall scholarships, and offer it in a way that gets an entire senior class from an elite university focused on civic engagement and innovative thinking. She said she knew of no other university that had created such a prize.”We want this to be something that isn’t their second or third choice, but their first choice,” Gutmann said. “I think this is going to create a cadre of students who are committed to civic engagement.”Colleges large and small increasingly are looking for ways to tie what students learn in the classroom to the real world, Selingo said. Davidson College in North Carolina, for example, offers paid “impact fellowships” to recent graduates who work with nonprofit organizations on critical health, education, and environmental issues.Penn’s new prize will pay for up to three projects per year; students can apply individually or in groups of up to three.

So, will we see UK universities trying something like this? Lots already offer small awards to current students to support good works or charitable endeavours but I’m not aware of anything on this scale. The award could be a game changer for Penn but will other students or unsuccessful competitors be resentful about the size of the pot? We’ll have to see but if they do make a real difference with the prize then we can expect that lots of others will be following suit.

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