Gates Foundation puts $2.5 million to fund social apps to help kids aiming for college

HELPING KIDS MAKE IT INTO AND IN COLLEGE: Gates Foundation, in a session held today at Facebook, kicked off a program called the "College Knowledge Challenge." The foundation plans to award a total of $2.5 million--or approximately 30 grants between $50K to $100K apiece--to organized teams that have ideas for applications aimed at helping students--especially low-income students--get into college, succeed and graduate.

Stacey Childress, Deputy Director of Education, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, pointed out that college degrees are a significant ticket to stable employment and wage growth. US unemployment is stuck at 8.1%, she noted, but those with only a high school degree are experiencing 8.8% unemployment. By contrast, the unemployment rate of those with a college degree is about half--4.1%.

"At the Gates Foundation, we're increasingly focused on personalized learning--namely, meeting every single student where they are so they get what they need to be successful," Childress said. "Technology is not a solution but a part of a set of solutions to help teachers, parents and families," she said.            

The call for proposal, which opened today, seeks applications from companies and organizations (technically groups with an EIN number)--not just ad hoc teams of individuals. Childress said she hopes to see proposals that will address the following needs:

  • Helping students build the social capital that will help them navigate the roadblocks to getting into and succeeding in college;
  • Rectifying the asymmetry of information about admissions and financial aid available to low-income and first generation students;  
  • Helping students build "personal pathways" to success in college (such as time management tools). 

In addition, all the proposals are expected to link to or use Facebook in some way. (Facebook is encouraging teams to use its developer site for tools and support.)

The official Challenge site also suggests a few other criteria, notably including that the idea and plan must be something that can be implemented within a reasonable amount of time.

Although those who propose apps will retain rights over the intellectual property, they have to agree to make the product available for free or "at reasonable cost" to those who need it.

Proposals are due by November 16; winners will be announced by January 23. The winners will get 40% of the funds at the outset and the remainder once they have built the application and it has been launched to customers.

Most fundamentally, the challenge is about spurring development teams to build applications that will make a difference: As the site declares: "We are looking for apps that have the potential to change the trajectory of young lives that are at risk of falling off the college-going and college-completing path."

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