1. Students in grades 6 through 12 and undergraduate students are eligible to participate. Out-of-school youth, ages 12 to 22, are also eligible to participate.
  2. Students may register as individuals or as a team. Team size is limited to four members.
  3. All student teams with members under the age of 18 must have a designated project Advisor.
  4. Advisors can be any adult supporter (e.g. teacher, counselor, coach, mentor, parent).
  5. Advisors must agree to serve as the authorized agent and competition point of contact for the team; advisors may advise the team on the development of the competition submission as a teacher would advise his/her students on a graded academic project. *See additional terms and conditions below
  6. Teams over the age of 18 must designate a team lead to serve as the authorized agent and competition point of contact for the team. *See additional terms and conditions below
  7. The competition submission process consists of two parts:
  • Submission document addressing one of the four Challenge Topics below; and
  • Sixty-second video pitch for the proposed innovation.


Challenge Topics

 Participants choose to address one of the following four topics:

 Topic #1 – Middle Grades Matter

 Goal: Ensure that students complete middle school ready for a rigorous high school curriculum. Improve high school graduation rates.

 Background: Too many students leave the middle grades unprepared to succeed in rigorous high school studies and unable to take advantage of all that high school can offer. It's the time when students seem to sink or swim. By ninth grade, many struggling students have fallen behind and are on a path to dropping out of school, if they haven’t already.

 Question: What innovation could ensure students in middle grades are academically prepared for high school and on track to graduate college-and-career-ready?

 Topic #2 – Skills, Skills, Skills

 Goal: Provide middle and/or high school students in urban, rural, and/or high-poverty communities with internships or other work-based experiences that will equip students with skills necessary for success in postsecondary education, the workforce, and civic life.

 Background: Many students complete high school with little experience connecting their education with potential career opportunities.  Likewise, too often it is only students of privilege who have opportunities to work on community-based projects related to what students are learning in school. As a result, students are not graduating from high school with the transferable skills required to be successful in higher education, emerging careers, or civic life. This is especially true for students in high-poverty, urban, and rural schools where graduation rates are well below the national average. While large urban districts are home to half of the nation’s low performing schools, one out of every five struggling high schools is located in a rural community.

 Question: What innovation could ensure that students, including those in urban, rural and/or high-poverty schools, have equal access to rigorous, relevant, and engaging internships and other work- or community-based educational experiences that prepare students for success in postsecondary education, 21st century careers, and civic life?

 Topic #3 – Education Pays

 Goal: Make it easier for students and families to make informed decisions about where to attend college based on affordability and value.

 Background: President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have said we need to educate our way to a better economy. A college education is more important than ever. But it’s also more expensive than ever. Americans with a college degree are half as likely to be unemployed and they earn twice as much. The Obama Administration has taken historic steps to keep college affordable, including investing over $40 billion in Pell Grants; making it easier for students to afford their federal student loan payments through common-sense repayment options such as Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn; and providing a $2,500 per year tax credit – $10,000 over four years. But with published tuition prices rising even faster than health care costs, total student loan debt eclipsing total credit card debt for the first time, and some colleges doing a much better job than others at graduating their students and leading them to career success, we need to help students and families find and select high-quality, affordable colleges and universities – the places where their investment is most likely to pay off. The president announced the development of a new scorecard to make it easier for students to compare colleges; net price calculators are now on every college website and embedded in the College Navigator; the Department of Education has partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to design a “Know Before You Owe” student aid award form; and the FAFSA website includes a comparison tool that shows which colleges have higher graduation rates. Now, we want to see students’ ideas.    

 Question: What innovation could ensure that students and families identify and choose high-quality, affordable postsecondary education programs – whether colleges, universities, or career training programs – that provide good value?

 Topic #4 – Finishing Faster

 Goal: Increase the likelihood that postsecondary students complete their degrees and decrease the time it takes them to cross the finish line, such as by improving and speeding up remedial coursework for those college students who need it.   

 Background: President Obama’s goal to once again lead the world in college attainment is crucial to America’s future economic success and the strength of American democracy. Accomplishing this goal means we must look beyond just getting students into postsecondary education and make sure they’re ready for college-level work when they get there – or at least can move quickly through remedial courses if they need them. Over a third of students who enter college aren’t ready for college level work. Just over half of students who start a full time bachelor’s degree finish within six years while less than one third of full time community college students finish within three years. This extra time to completion not only hurts our ability to meet our immediate workforce needs, but increases costs for both the student and the federal and state governments that support higher education. An extra year to completion could mean an extra year of student loans.

 Question: What innovation could ensure that more students who enter postsecondary programs – colleges, universities, and career training programs – complete their degrees on time?

*Additional Terms and Conditions:

By submitting this application, Advisor or Team Lead, as an authorized agent of his/her team, agrees to grant the Department a transferable, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, fully paid-up royalty free license for all submissions from himself/herself or his/her team and all related intellectual property (collectively, the “Works") developed for, and provided to Department, as part of entering this challenge, with the right to sublicense, to use, modify, make derivatives thereof, make, have made, produce, reproduce, copy, display, publicly perform, and distribute the Works in the United States and throughout the world for the purposes of promoting Department initiatives and programs.  Advisor or Team Lead further authorizes the Department to exhibit/distribute the Works, in whole or in part, through various media forms for informational purposes. 

Advisor or Team Lead authorizes the Department to use his/her name, appearance, likeness, voice and/or biographical material in connection with the Works.   Advisor or Team Lead acknowledges that the Works may not contain images or likenesses of any individuals who have not provided their authorization or whose parents or guardians have not provided authorization if such individuals are under the age of majority in their jurisdiction of residence.

Advisor or Team Lead warrants that he/she or his/her team is the sole owner of the Works; that the Works do not infringe any copyright/trademark, violate any property rights, or contain any scandalous, libelous, or unlawful matter.  

Students will retain intellectual property ownership of their submissions, however, the Department of Education will retain a transferable license to use, modify, distribute, and publicly perform/display the Students’ submissions (which include the video pitch) for the promotion of Department programs and initiatives. Students, by providing their submissions, also agree that the Department of Education may use their name, appearance, and likeness for the aforementioned informational purposes.