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EdCreds: A New Currency for College

Students of all ages build financial credits for the cost of tuition by participating in qualified educational extracurricular activities

Photo of Shari Cheves
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

The target audience includes all students, educators, lenders, and champions of education. EdCreds are earned by active learners of any age and redeemed for cash or tuition credit after college enrollment. Students increase ownership and likelihood of graduation after using EdCred tracking and career guidance. Parents encourage extracurricular educational activities and are informed of college savings plans. Colleges benefit from matched EdCreds students, and donors benefit from partnerships.


College tuition is unaffordable for most families and student loans have accumulated into a wall of insurmountable debt. Trends show that students are increasing their share of the burden, but the problem extends beyond the bank. As former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan remarked, "The degree students truly can’t afford is the one they don’t complete, or that employers don’t value." Any approach to college affordability must consider student preparedness and commitment to their selected program.

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With EdCreds, people of all ages earn credits toward the cost of their tuition by participating in a wide variety of qualified, extracurricular activities that emphasize learning and teaching. These are financial credits, not academic credits. EdCreds can be earned at a wide variety of accessible activities including museums, national parks, after-school enrichment programs, and educational summer camps. EdCreds activities are tracked through childhood and help students select the most appropriate college programs for their needs and interests. EdCreds are redeemed for cash after a student enrolls in any type of accredited college. Funding for EdCreds includes charitable donations, corporate sponsorship, and sales of EdCreds Big Data. During and after college, individuals receive EdCreds for mentoring or instruction without pay or academic credit. EdCreds continue to help graduates pay off student loans, explore professional development, and engage in lifelong learning.

EdCreds are unique to each person and non-transferable, never borrowed, bought, or sold!

Visit the new website and take a quick survey!

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Read a personal appeal here

Who Benefits?

Students: Over an entire childhood, students earn EdCreds and invest in themselves through educational activities outside of the classroom. As they enter college, students with EdCreds are more aware of the financial impact, feel greater ownership of their experience, and are more likely to complete their degree. During and after graduation, EdCreds can be earned through qualified mentoring and volunteer work to help pay down student loans or engage in continuing education through participating programs. 

Parents: With direct financial incentives, EdCreds remind parents to save for college throughout childhood. EdCreds also help parents select valuable experiences for their child based on their history of EdCred activities. During high school, parents use to review their child's EdCreds activities and guide them into colleges and programs that best fit their interests and experience. Both parents and students share the relief of savings in tuition.

EdCred providers: After application, review, and approval, education-oriented organizations qualify as official EdCred providers. These organizations offer EdCreds to participants and enjoy the marketing benefits. An "EdCreds Approved" badge assures customers that the provider's activities are an investment in education in multiple ways. This incentive program also boosts visitor-serving programs like museums and national parks who face declining attendance. 

Colleges: When students submit their EdCreds activity during application, college admissions can measure the "educational motivation" of applicants and predict success in desired programs. Colleges can also purchase EdCred data to better target prospective students, potentially saving over $2K per student in recruiting for private colleges and over $450 per student in recruiting for public 4-year colleges. With college and career guidance, colleges are more likely to receive students that are better suited for their programs, reducing dropout rates and raising academic performance.

EdCreds-aware colleges will also attract more charitable donations and endowments through "EdCredibility." As the EdCreds program evolves, certain colleges and organizations can bestow EdCreds on high-demand instructors, student interns, or mentors. These EdCreds can be used to pay for continuing education or enrichment courses, conferences, or student loans. 

EdCred-friendly loan providers: Considering that 17% of student loan borrowers are currently severely delinquent (WSJ, 2015), lenders may benefit from redeeming or considering EdCreds as much as colleges. EdCreds might reduce rates and principal on student loans. By applying creative strategies with EdCreds, public and private lenders can prevent default and improve our economic outlook.

Funding for EdCreds

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Imagine a Sample Case 

When Charlie enters kindergarten, his parents join the EdCreds program offered to every new student. Throughout elementary school, Charlie gathers hundreds of EdCreds through after-school enrichment classes and school-sponsored field trips where he learns about music, endangered animals, art, and American history. During summers, more EdCreds are accumulated as Charlie visits museums and local libraries that feature interactive exhibits, storytime events, and pen pal book clubs. By middle school, Charlie signs up for art classes at the community center, earning over a hundred EdCreds each year. In the summer, Charlie scores another hundred EdCreds at the nearby metropolitan aquarium where he attends an ocean camp focusing on global warming and climate change. Over the years, Charlie's parents use to find local low-cost activities, and they are periodically reminded about financial milestones for college savings. The EdCreds website helps provide some guidance for selecting a number of options.

Through high school, Charlie collects hundreds of additional EdCreds by participating in the science fair, joining the tech challenge, and tutoring middle school students in math. When Charlie is a junior, he uses to take an online career guidance course that helps him identify possible directions for college. This course analyzes Charlie's history of EdCreds activities and suggests that his math and science skills might be suitable for a degree in bioengineering. When Charlie is a senior, he finds colleges that offer engineering degrees and match his academic performance. Charlie reviews the potential colleges with his parents, considering his current EdCreds earnings. Charlie's parents had saved quite a bit for college, but Charlie needs a small loan and redeems his 2500 EdCreds to reduce the impact.

During college, Charlie interns at the college research center and earns more EdCreds. He attends professional conferences where he gathers a few hundred EdCreds by attending lectures and presenting his work. He redeems these EdCreds to help pay down student debt.

After receiving his degree and starting his career, Charlie is reminded that he can keep earning EdCreds through approved volunteer teaching activity. He helps out at the local middle school by coaching a robotics team and judging science fair competitions. Charlie earns more EdCreds and redeems them to pay for professional development courses and the remainder of his student loans. Within just a few years, Charlie is thinking about financial stability and future opportunities in life.

A New World of Opportunities

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EdCreds for self-assessment - As EdCreds activities are tracked over years or decades, the website can help students select activities as well as colleges that best fit their interests and experiences. A wide variety of online tools will assess personality and career aptitude at different checkpoints. Other tools will help integrate analysis with comparisons of college programs, tuition, and education value. These tools are essential at a time when a large portion of states do not mandate high school counselors. In fact, California ranks worst in the nation for high school guidance counselors. 

EdCreds for self-promotion - People can publicize their own EdCreds to tout their educational motivation to colleges and potential employers. Insurance companies may eventually want to evaluate EdCreds to provide discounts on rates. Certain scholarships may also be designed to consider EdCreds. 

EdCreds for college promotion - Colleges can benefit from EdCreds students who are personally invested in their program based on the EdCreds earning and guidance process. If colleges consider EdCreds during the application process, they increase demand for this type of extracurricular education-oriented student. Ultimately, EdCred-friendly institutions are more likely to attract donors and who support the larger goal of lifelong learning. 

EdCreds for educational activity promotion - It will be easier to attract a child or parent to a library, science center, nature program, or museum if EdCreds are attached to these interactive activities. Visitor-serving organizations will benefit from this additional marketing power in the face of declining attendance. 

Tools for validating education value of activities - EdCred providers must be approved to offer EdCreds based on the education value of their activities. While schools, camps, museums, and other organizations may create their own process for earning EdCreds, some will benefit from online tools to confirm that a child or adult met the expected educational goals. The EdCreds nonprofit organization can provide samples, templates, and tools to help make this process easier for educational recreational programs and centers.

Online coursework - New research indicates that over 7 million people are taking online classes (Chronicle of Higher Ed, 2014). EdCreds might be used to help pay for online language learning, music lessons, test prep, and other enrichment courses. Qualifying online academies that do not provide academic credits or professional certification may also offer EdCreds to encourage the lifelong learning process.

Professional EdCreds - Professional EdCreds is a concept that allows participating schools to bestow EdCreds on certain high-demand instructors. These EdCreds can be used for courses in continuing education, professional development, or loan payments. 

Survey Results - full page results here and attached


What is the defined value of an EdCred? EdCreds are proposed to be based on time so that one hour of extracurricular education time earns one EdCred. While this earn rate might be negotiable based on category of approved activity, maintaining a simple 1 hour:1 EdCred ratio can prevent friction among providers. If colleges become redemption centers, there may be very different redemption rates among campuses. If the EdCreds Foundation implements a cashback plan for redemption, a single redemption rate will fluctuate with available funds each year.

How will colleges or the EdCreds foundation cover the cost of EdCreds? Depending on the center of redemption, the cost of EdCreds will be covered by funds raised by the EdCreds Foundation, college tuition increases or donations, and/or lenders that benefit from the partnership with motivated learners. The options for funding are listed above and may be combined for greater opportunities. Caps on total and individual EdCred accumulation (by age, per week or month, type of activity, etc.) lessen the impact and allow for realistic adoption.

What are the goals of the EdCreds nonprofit organization? The EdCreds 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization will focus on a variety of ways to promote lifelong learning. While growing a strong network of participating providers (educational extracurricular programs), will help parents identify and plan events and activities. will help connect families with these activities considering budget, time, and interests. EdCreds tracking will store a child's activities and personal ratings for future career and college analysis. Tips on saving for college and encouraging intellectual exploration will be periodically shared. Through high school, will offer career guidance and help with the college selection process, including tools that compare college value and analysis of a child's EdCred-earning history. A child will grow to lead the EdCreds experience and face college with a sense of ownership and investment. During and after college, EdCreds continue to offer rewards to students and graduates who explore teaching and learning.

How does this concept support low-income students and families? EdCreds promote all types of extracurricular learning activities, including free and low-cost programs. will provide perks to EdCred Providers who offer support services such as free transportation, income-based scholarships, sliding scale fees, etc. This approach avoids stigmatization while boosting highly accessible programs already in place such as these:

  • Conscientious museums  - Bank of America® offers free admission to 150 museums, science centers, gardens and other sites by using a Bank of America® or Merrill Lynch® card and photo ID. Cool Culture helps over 50,000 families access cultural institutions in New York City. Some museums like Stepping StonesHagley Museum, and DuPage offer their own financial assistance programs while dozens of other museums partner with the Museums for All program to remove financial barriers. Organizations like make it possible for teachers to get funding for inspiring field trips to these sites.

  • Affordable youth organizations - Scouts often get free admission or discounts to educational events and attractions that help make up the costs of membership. The website will help parents select EdCred earning activities based on location, cost, and theme.

  • Affordable after school education - While many schools offer their own enrichment programs, The Boys & Girls Club provides low cost options and educational enhancements, and the 4-H after school programs and mentoring services are free. Music lessons are available to students in need through the MusicLink Foundation.

  • Religious education - As with other subjects, the study of religion outside of the classroom would earn EdCreds within approved programs that are available for free or minimal cost.

  • Mentoring programs - Youth to Youth programs are youth-driven, adult-guided mentoring programs that set at-risk teens on the right path toward college. EdCred incentives can help attract mentors in high-demand programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters or MENTOR. Young college mentors in programs like CARA deserve EdCreds for guiding high schoolers toward college when they are at most risk of abandoning plans.

EdCreds promotes and adds value to extracurricular activities that celebrate learning and prepare students for higher education. Unlike current scholarships and discounts that focus on achievement or low income, EdCreds fill the gap by rewarding participation. The EdCreds extracurricular approach also complements the government's new GEAR UP program that is limited to support within schools. EdCreds increase early awareness and personal investment that often prevent low-income students from completing degrees. EdCreds establish an ongoing dialogue with families that includes important information on early financial aid, college savings options, and college guidance.

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What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

EdCreds can be tested in populated areas that include diverse educational activities for all ages. With the simple cashback program, EdCreds might effectively start with several school districts and their surrounding extracurricular youth programs. Early inclusion of high schoolers would help accelerate evaluation of EdCreds earning, tracking, college guidance, and college recruitment. Partnering with nearby colleges could help determine long-term success in matching students.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

OpenIDEO can help brainstorm potential EdCred-earning activities, identify test communities, outline creative employment incentives for businesses, and visualize additional ways that EdCreds tracking can help at all ages. Software and game design might help make the EdCred investment process more fun and educational - how can we make EdCreds a great online experience as much as a great offline one?

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

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Evaluation results

12 evaluations so far

1. Does this idea make college more accessible, especially for low income students in the U.S.?

Yes! - 41.7%

To a degree - 33.3%

Not that I can tell - 25%

2. Does this idea think beyond current cost structures of college and activate new sectors or partners?

Yes! - 58.3%

It's attempting to - 25%

Not that I can tell - 16.7%

3. How excited are you about this idea?

I'm so excited I just can't hide it! - 25%

I'm pretty neutral in my excitement level - 50%

I don't feel very excited about this idea. - 25%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Carolina Mndz


This is a great idea! I am just finishing up my MBA. I hope something like this is implemented 10 years from now for future generations. Getting and Paying back loans adds so much stress to students and families.

Best of luck

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