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How might we reimagine the cost of college in the U.S. and how it's paid for?

A bachelor's degree can be the single most important step on the economic ladder in the U.S. While only ten percent of people from low-income families attain a bachelor's degree by age 25, for those that do, the benefits can be life-changing. Students in the U.S. born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution who are able to persist and complete college nearly quadruple their chances of making it into the top fifth.

With your help during our Higher Ed Challenge we’ll work together to tackle a major barrier in getting to and through higher education — affordability. Let's explore ideas that cut across cultures, income levels, countries, industries and sectors as we envision a world that supports every person who wants to graduate with a bachelor's degree.

Keep reading for more information on the focus of this crucial challenge.

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During this challenge we’ll draw upon diverse perspectives to help develop creative solutions. While we’re excited to see ideas that rethink the cost of attending a four-year college in the U.S., the issues surrounding an accessible education are found across the world. We’ll look to our community to provide analogous examples and research. Introduce us to new ways that students, schools, institutions and governments could help pay for college – and tell us your story about affording your own education.

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Our goal is to build empathy with the unique ways higher education is structured around the world in order to better inform new ideas. Students and educators will provide input and we’ll also look to a range of stakeholders including nonprofits, counselors, parents and private and public corporations to help us better understand this challenge. We’ll rely heavily on design research tactics – interviewing, storytelling and gaining new perspectives – to bring the issue to life and create powerful solutions.

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The types of ideas that have the greatest potential for implementation in this challenge:

  • Make it affordable. Relieving the financial barriers of college in the U.S. – especially for lower-income students – is at the heart of this challenge. We’re excited to help you embrace your creative instincts to help make this happen.
  • Are nontraditional. We're aiming to think beyond the current cost structure of higher education. Should students primarily bear the cost of college? Are there sectors that we can connect to and leverage? How might we pull inspiration from international examples? What role do businesses, countries, cultures and industries play in making college affordable?
  • Inspire action.  Awareness and education are essential but implementation leads to success. How does your idea actively get more students to and through college instead of teaching them how they might do so?
  • Lead to graduating. While getting students to college is important, graduating is what matters. If your idea includes the journey through graduation you’re on the right track. Does your idea address some of the unique financial challenges lower-income students might face as they work towards their bachelor’s degree?
  • Consider Scale. Starting local can be really powerful – but how might your idea be transferable to a large number of students? As you form your idea, try to be mindful of the different cost structures that surround the college landscape and how your idea might adapt.
  • Are human-centered.  This is at the heart of OpenIDEO’s approach. Lead with empathy by talking to potential end users, developing prototypes and collecting feedback from those you’re designing for.

As the challenge unfolds we'll share more about our goals so you know where we're headed. We hope to see Top Ideas that UBS or other organizations can explore implementing. As always, we encourage everyone to take your ideas forward in your own communities or to collaborate with your network to make progress on this challenge.

On OpenIDEO we strive to be a place where ideas gain momentum – both from the community and from our sponsors. Check out our Guiding Principles for tips on how you can effectively collaborate with the community. 

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About UBS NextGen Leaders

UBS NextGen Leaders, UBS’s signature Americas education initiative, aims to increase college graduation among lower-income, first-generation college-goers by connecting them with competitive schools and resources that position them for career success. A $10 million, five-year commitment, UBS NextGen Leaders is expanding college success through two innovative programs: The TalentED Project, in partnership with the Tennessee College Access & Success Network (TCASN) and Discovery Education, and UBS-SEO College Scholars, with SEO Scholars.

About UBS

UBS is committed to providing private, institutional and corporate clients worldwide, as well as retail clients in Switzerland, with superior financial advice and solutions while generating attractive and sustainable returns for shareholders. Its strategy centers on its Wealth Management and Wealth Management Americas businesses and its leading universal bank in Switzerland, complemented by its Global Asset Management business and its Investment Bank. For more information visit

This challenge is now over.
458 contributions
287 ideas
287 final ideas
27 final ideas
24 final ideas