OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Tuition Heroes

Similar to the Energy Star badge program for efficient appliances, Tuition Heroes rewards higher education institutions for tuition control.

Photo of John Matthews
48 13

Written by

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

Tuition Heroes gives institutions a goal and rewards them when they achieve it. Leaders of higher education institutions are the target. It provides an incentive for institutions to keep their tuition in line with normal inflation rates. The associated "peer pressure" to be a Tuition Hero coupled with a Tuition Heroes Fund for those institutions that activate their Tuition Hero Badge will create a cycle of influence on tuition and help make higher education more accessible to students.

Specifically, we reward institutions Tuition Hero status when their tuition compound annual growth rate is 2.5% or less over a 4-year period.

Tuition Hero Badge

We give them the option to activate a Tuition Hero badge and have it appear on their listing on the Tuition Heroes website. Badge activation also unlocks an embed code, which allows the badge to appear on any website and link back to the institution's page on Tuition Heroes that provides evidence of how they achieved Tuition Hero status.

Here are two interactive infographics showing some Tuition Heroes statistics: Tuition Heroes Overview  & Tuition Heroes by State 

Tuition Heroes Funds

We will also initiate a crowdfunded Tuition Heroes Fund for each institution that has achieved Tuition Hero status and has activated their Tuition Hero Badge. The funds can be used for need-based or merit-based scholarships. The funds can also be used for campus-based capital projects that improve the students' experience and reduce the need to pass along expenses through tuition increases.

Tuition Heroes Card

Down the road, we'd also like to reward institutions that "rollback" their tuition levels to where they "should" be based on past inflation rates. We'd recommend a gradual tuition rollback based on reaching enrollment goals and giving students a tuition rebate. This rebate could be placed on a Tuition Heroes stored-value card, redeemable at the institution's book store. They'd fund the cards, and we'd manage the program.

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

Tuition Heroes is live at http://tuitionheroes.com. In 2015, there were 1,433 Tuition Heroes. We display evidence of how they earned their Tuition Hero status and offer the opportunity to activate their Tuition Hero badge. When activated, badges are displayed on the institution's listing, along with an embed code that can be used to display the linked badge on any website. We are in the process of using Twitter and email to contact institution leaders. Badges are slowly being activated.

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

I think one of the biggest hurdles is to make the general public aware of Tuition Heroes. Getting in touch with high school teachers, counselors, parents and their college-bound children could be an expensive adventure. We're pumping out interesting content through our blog and trying to get it in front of journalists with an education beat. But, the national publicity is not coming to us as easily as imagined. So, any guidance in this respect would be especially helpful.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

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

  • Yes

Evaluation results

30 evaluations so far

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

Yes! - 43.3%

To a degree - 46.7%

Not that I can tell - 10%

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

Yes! - 60%

It's attempting to - 30%

Not that I can tell - 10%

3. How excited are you about this idea?

I'm so excited I just can't hide it! - 56.7%

I'm pretty neutral in my excitement level - 40%

I don't feel very excited about this idea. - 3.3%

View more

Attachments (9)

Milestone 9.pdf

SIZE YOUR MARKET

Tuition Heroes Effect.pdf

STABILIZE TUITION GROWTH | INCREASE ENROLLMENTS| INCREASE FUNDING

Milestone 5.pdf

WHO ARE YOUR USERS?

Milestone 3.pdf

USER DISCOVERY

Milestone 2.pdf

HYPOTHESES & ASSUMPTIONS

Milestone 1.pdf

FORM YOUR TEAM

Milestone 4.pdf

MAKING SENSE

Milestone 6.pdf

PROTOTYPE & GET FEEDBACK

Milestone 7.pdf

BUSINESS MODEL CANVAS

48 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Jeannie Thornberry
Team

This is great! 

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks Jeannie!

Photo of Jeff Wunderlich
Team

Excellent

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks Jeff!

Photo of Cindy
Team

Great Idea!  

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks Cindy!

Photo of Nicolò Weiss
Team

John,
I really like your idea as it tackles the issue within the current business model of colleges at its heart. Few thoughts from me:
- Today Tuition Heroes gives the badge to colleges committing to an inflation target; but how about ABS tuition (which is the real problem)? I mean colleges with an ABS fee relatively lower than other colleges. Call them "Tuition superheroes"?
- Alternatively why don't you give the badge to colleges committing to keep rates flat, ie $5k in Y1, $5k in Y2, $5k in Y3? I studied in Italy in two universities and in none of them my fees increased between years. 
- Have you thought focusing on:
1) areas less than privileged (ie small towns with economic problems as opposed to big cities)?
2) convincing families to look for the badge (rather than convincing big schools, leave that job to their customers)? In the end, if families spontaneously look for it and demand it, it would be the final result of your work.
All the best,
nico

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks for the comment, Nicolo. What is ABS tuition?

We do give the Tuition Hero designation to institutions that offer a fixed-rate tuition policy. See our methods here: http://tuitionheroes.com/methods We have to rely on the institution to tell us, because this information is not really reported anywhere.

We're trying to work both sides of the coin regarding awareness, making the institutions and the general public aware of Tuition Heroes. We're pumping out interesting content from our blog, trying to get articles written about us from journalists.

Photo of Nicolò Weiss
Team

Apologies John, I meant the schools who charge the lower absolute amount.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

In my mind, that's a different issue. We don't focus on tuition levels, we only focus on tuition growth. Outrageous growth is what has got us into this mess.

Harvard is always going to be more expensive than the University of Missouri-Columbia, as a Porche is always going to be more expensive than a Chevrolet. Students know what they're getting into before they enter an institution. But, if an institution starts raising tuition after they've enrolled, the institution becomes less heroric. 

We have considered giving a different reward to those institutions that initiate a "rollback" of tuition. Resetting their tuition level to where it "should" be in regard to regular inflation would be a nice trend. This probably would have to be done by the institution on a gradual basis, so as to not upset their cost structure. 

Photo of Nicolò Weiss
Team

Raising tuition after one is enrolled is predatory. I studied in Italy and 10 years ago and before enrolling I knew already all the tuition fees (no small prints). 

The rolling back of tuition would be great, but most likely comes with a change in the business model of colleges.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi John.
Interesting idea!  I like the website.  I searched NY State looking for some specific public and private colleges and was was surprised to see the variety of institutions represented.  It is great!    Dance academies, religious academies, technical institutes, as well as general colleges and universities.   What type of outreach are you doing to get the word out to this very broad group of students/families?

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks, Bettina.

To date, we have been focusing on the institution targets who would activate their Tuition Hero Badge. We're in contact with more than 500 presidents through email, and have been trying to get the word out through their Twitter accounts as well. We need to do more.

As you point out, we also need to make potential students and families aware too. We'd like to do some social media advertising targeted at the followers of these institutions. We're also trying to capture some earned media publicity by pushing out content from our blog to journalists who may care.

We've also contacted governors from each state, hoping they would be interested in the Tuition Hero institutions their state funds.

Any thoughts?

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Have you thought about targeting PTA groups, parenting blogs, high school guidance counselors or school principals - or any organizations they might belong to? Maybe contact groups like Teach for America? I think that parents of high school students might be very interested in knowing this information early in the process.  Once a youth starts to look at schools if they find a school that they like only to be told later that it is not an option might be really hard.
I guess there are two ways families might approach researching possible colleges. One is to look for schools that might be a fit academically, and then to investigate other things about the school.  The other is to make a list of schools that might be a fit academically that also fit other important criteria, from the beginning of the process.  Here is a pretend list:  1) The school must be within a certain geographic area.  2) There must be public transport to the city/town that is affordable.  3) The school must have a track record of not raising tuition excessively.   1 - 3 must be met or the college cannot make the list.
I also think that if the information gets into the hands of parents and high schools, universities will probably be nudged to activate their badges as parents will be asking about it.
What do you think?

It is so easy to check for schools on your website. I plan to share it with my family and friends who have kids in high school.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

I was an Assistant Dean at University of Missouri-St. Louis. I know the Associate Dean of the College of Education. He has a relationship with Teach for America. I like that idea! He might be able to hook me up with them.

I'm glad you like the site and that it's easy to use.

Thanks again!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Great.  Keep us posted!

Photo of Shari Cheves
Team

Hi John, I have referred to your project in my EdCreds concept – a way for students of all ages to earn credits that help pay down college tuition. EdCreds relies heavily on increased awareness of tuition value, a mission of Tuition Heroes. EdCreds may need a similar badge program to show the current redemption rate for EdCreds at each institution, particularly in relation to their tuition hikes and overall value. Let me know what you think of an EdCreds badge program as well as a relationship with yours. The new EdCreds.org website explains the concept and includes a survey. Thank you!

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Hi Shari,

Thanks for linking to Tuition Heroes.

I was an Assistant Dean at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I've heard of universities offering credit for life experiences. Ours didn't, but some online universities do. I would imagine it would be a pretty strict process for an accredited institution to tackle. The boards that accredit institutions have pretty strict rules about what a university can and can't do. It's probably doable, but the credibility of each life experience would have to be verified and meet rigorous standards. Universities are very slow and conservative and don't want to do anything to risk loss of their accreditation.

I'd be curious to learn how you plan to get accredited universities to accept EdCreds. If you can do that, then you may have a valuable service, and we'd be open to some sort of relationship.

You'll have to give me more details on what you want to do with your badge...how they earn it etc. But, I'm sure whatever you have in mind is worth trying.

Thanks,

John

 

Photo of Shari Cheves
Team

Hi John,
So institutions risk loss of accreditation if they discount tuition in any way? I was not aware of this limitation. EdCreds are financial credits (not academic) and only intended to reduce total tuition cost. EdCred-providing programs such as museums, national parks, libraries, and children's camps will be able to present EdCreds badges along with EdCred-accepting colleges. There will be an application and review process for the EdCred-providing programs to ensure credibility and educational value.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

No, tuition has nothing to do with it. If they grant a degree to someone based on an unauthorized system, their accrediting agency may have something to say about it.

I'm assuming that your EdCredit system will give a student a certain number of hours (ie: credit) towards a degree and therefore will reduce the amount of tuition they pay. For example: They need 120 hours to get a certain degree and its $200 per hour, so it will cost them $24,000. But, because they took some class and received 3 hours of college credit through the EdCredit program, they only need 117 hours and it will cost them $23,400. 

I guess you're saying they will just receive a discount on tuition and will still have to take the full course load.

Photo of Alexandra Alden
Team

Hey John! Was just thinking about your idea and was wondering if you through about having a recurring subscription fee for universities? 1) That would allow you to have continuing revenue streams from these universities 2) You would want to check up on the universities because what if they fall out of compliance and the fee would be a way to have a yearly check in (and cover costs of administering that check in). Also, have you though about maybe created some added value on the university end? Could there be a sort of consortium of universities that had this sticker that could network and maybe be eligible for special funding from the government? 

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks for thinking about Tuition Heroes, Alex.

Having a membership is a nice idea, but they have to meet our criteria in order to be a Tuition Hero and therefore be a member. So, I couldn't just renew their membership if they fell out of compliance. I will follow up with institutions to renew or get the next annual badge. Each badge will have the year on them.

We will be initiating a Tuition Heroes Fund for each institution that is a Tuition Hero. These funds can be used for need-based or merit-based scholarships. They can also be used for campus-based projects that will improve the students' experience and decrease the need to pass along expenses through tuition increases.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

We will generate Tuition Heroes Funds only for those Tuition Heroes that have activated their Tuition Hero Badge, serving as an incentive to do so. We will capture a 5% admin fee.

Photo of Alexandra Alden
Team

Thanks for participating in Feedback Hours with Impact Engine! Here's your feedback:
What excites you about the idea?

Great idea to raise awareness and support universities that control their tuition rates.


What do they need to work on?

Need to do some work on value propositions for students/families as well as Universities.
Need to do customer interviews to understand pain points for families and Universities. What will compel them to care about certification



What action items did you give them?

Develop Business Model Canvas for this two-sided market (students/families and Universities)
Identify who would be making the purchase from the university side (CMO? President?)
Research most effective ways to gain awareness around Tution Hero certification for families

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Welcome to the refinement phase John! We’re impressed by all the progress you’ve made in the human-centered milestones since the beginning of the Ideas phase. We’re also excited to see hot this idea might establish an industry standard for college affordability on a national level.

In the Refinement phase, we’re looking forward to learning more about the current experiments you’re working on. A helpful first step would be to update your idea post with an executive summary of the human-centered milestone PDFs you’ve attached. The executive summary would allow the OpenIDEO community to quickly grasp what you’ve accomplished since the beginning of the challenge. In your idea post, we’d also love for you to highlight some of the key feedback you’ve collected and the next steps for how you might iterate forward. This would give the OpenIDEO community a better understanding of how we can support your project. As you continue to develop Tuition Heroes, we’re looking forward to learning more about the value proposition to participating universities. In addition to recognition, what other benefits might universities receive from being badged by Tuition Heroes? We’d also love to see how you might develop simple prototypes to test the assumptions you’ve identified in the human-centered milestones.

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 12/22" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing. We’re excited to see this idea progress in the next weeks!

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks! I just uploaded "The Tuition Heroes Effect". It visually describes how Tuition Heroes intends to create a cycle of influence that will perpetuate institutions to strive for the Tuition Hero Badge, leading to stabilized tuitions.

We will also begin to generate Tuition Heroes Funds for institutions that activate their Tuition Hero Badge. 

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on making it to the Refinement Phase John! In the next few days we'll be sending you additional feedback to help you take this idea forward - so be on the lookout for that. We're looking forward to how this idea will grow!

Photo of Kevin Mathis
Team

Great idea! I'm onboard with focusing on Universities in addition to student to look for ways to motivate both parties to minimize tuition. This idea holds universities accountable very well.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks, Kevin. We're also working out a way to generate Tuition Heroes Funds for institutions that activate their Tuition Hero badge. http://tuitionheroes.com/funds

Photo of Ali Harcourt
Team

HI John,

Just wanted to say i think this is such a unique, original idea! I am impressed by the scalability of this idea and how it targets increasing accountability of universities. I think this idea will partner really well with some of the other ideas posted on this problem to really challenge the current pricing models of higher education

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks, Ali! 

Photo of Prasenjeet Das
Team

Hi Alex, 
I really liked the idea, I had something similar in my mind too. I liked the way you presented the article. Could you please tell me how this could be implemented on a global scale, the reason I ask this as this kind of structure could be really helpful for many small nations. 
Cheers!!

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Hi Prasenjeet. This is John from Tuition Heroes. I agree that Tuition Heroes could be implemented globally. Currently, we use data from the US Department of Education to calculate the compound annual growth rate for each institution's tuition (http://tuitionheroes.com/methods). We would have to have access to similar data from other countries. 

Photo of Alexandra Alden
Team

Hi John! Alex here from Path to Pitching. This is an awesome idea! I want to confirm you are potentially interested in pitching it to our accelerator partners?  I'm sure you've done user interviews and customer validation, could you maybe publish some personas on your idea page? We'd also love to hear about feedback you've received from your prototype and MVP. How do you see this scaling?

Learn more about the Path to Pitching: http://bit.ly/1HzPkeV

Check out our Human Centered Milestones, we created them to help you develop your idea: http://bit.ly/1N6hgbQ

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Hi Alex.

I am open to pitching to accelerators. By personas, do you mean people we've talked to?

Tuition Heroes is live at http://tuitionheroes.com, and we're actively marketing to our target base. So, I think it's a little beyond the prototype stage. I would say it's at the MVP stage.

Badge sales are slow, but they are happening. Everyone I talk to says it's a great idea. The only resistance I've heard so far is from an expensive college in New Hampshire that didn't feel it necessary to promote their tuition control with a badge. But, I don't think they understood the "spirit" of the project.

Regarding scaling, there is a finite number of higher education institutions in America (3,685). As more of them become Tuition Heroes, our revenue opportunities will go up. As the program becomes more ubiquitous, we could increase badge prices. We could also expand internationally, but I'm not familiar with any regulatory agencies  (ie: US Department of Education) that posts tuition rates for higher education institutions in other countries. There probably is data available, I'm just not aware of it yet.  

We've also entertained the idea of selling more than one badge per Tuition Hero. Right now, it takes $100 to activate a badge. But, if local businesses, alumni, government officials, students, parents or other people in an institution's community or state contributed more than $100, we could pool it into an endowment fund and reward it to a current or future student at that institution. Right now, the badges can be crowdfunded. So, people could contribute as little as $25 to help build a scholarship. This would be another incentive for an institution to get or maintain Tuition Hero status, because they would have scholarships generated for their institution.

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Exciting work John! If you can update your original idea post with some feedback you've collected from test users - that'd be very helpful. Highlighting the lessons learned and more details on your next steps would also be help. e.g. Your team's plan to develop the badging system. Looking forward to updates:T

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks, Shane. I can't update my original post, because I have reached the character limit. I can only include further details in the comment section.

The badge system is already in place. We originally went with a 3rd party (Credly) that offered "open" badges that could be collected in one place (ie: Mozillas Backpack). But, the process for the end user was too cumbersome to sign up, provide evidence, search for the embed code etc. Pluse, we don't think institutions will be collecting badges. So, we decided to do it in-house. It's a more manual procedure for us, but it's easy for the user.

Here's an example of an institution with their 2014 & 2015 Tuition Hero badges activated, along with the associated embed codes: http://tuitionheroes.com/search/16431-truman-state-university

Regarding next steps, we are in marketing mode. It's relatively easy to find email addresses and contact many of the leaders of independent institutions. We sent emails directly to the presidents of about 600 institutions (about 40% of the Tuition Heroes). But, national, corporate-owned institutions (ie: University of Phoenix) are a different story. We'll have to get on the phone on try to contact them that way.   

We'd like to do some social media advertising to support our efforts, but we have limited resources. 

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks!

Photo of An Old Friend
Team

Hi John, great contribution! This is something I haven't heard of before. Out of curiosity, how are normal inflation rates determined for Tuition Hero? Also, how are participating universities judged in terms of tuition when they oftentimes have differing base tuitions when they enter the program?

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Hi Morgan. We used the rates from the US Inflation calculator (http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/inflation/current-inflation-rates/) to track the rates for the last ten years. The average rate is approximately 2.0%, but we use 2.5% as our benchmark for Tuition Heroes. You can see our methods here: http://tuitionheroes.com/methods.

As far as how we judge the institutions, we don't focus on levels. We focused only on growth. So, an institution with a relatively high tuition level (ie: Harvard) can be a Tuition Hero. At institutions like this, students know tuition is relatively high when they enroll, but they also know tuition hasn't  gone up over 2.5% per year over four years on a compound annual growth rate basis.

Photo of John Matthews
Team

My discussion below with Mustafa made me think about how there are really two levers that can change higher education accessibility.

Tuition Heroes is currently focused on the one lever that influences WHAT price students will pay for higher education. Our goal is to stabilize tuition growth, so that it's in line with regular inflation rates. 

The other lever is HOW students will pay for higher education. The comments from Mustapha below are focused on this lever. Right now, the main options are by paying out-of-pocket or by getting a student loan or grant based on merit or hardship.

But, what if you can't get a loan or grant? There are some creative ways to get people to help you through the many crowdfunding sites on the web. Here's a collection of them: http://www.crowdcrux.com/crowdfunding-sites-for-college-and-education-costs/ 

Photo of Mustafa Akkoc
Team

how does this help to pay me to get college or university ? Assume  I have zero dollars in my pocket ? I come to tuition hero site by the way Assume I am connecting internet from Apple Store , I am that much  poor . I see heros  , that's it ?  I wanna study mechatronic engineering (ironman engineering).

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Thanks for the comment, Mustafa. America is a capitalistic society, built on individual responsibility and competition. People can take out student loans and be responsible for paying them back. It is no one else's responsibility to pay for anyone else's education. You may see free education in a socialistic society, where everyone gives most of their paycheck to the government.

Tuition Heroes wants to be PART of the solution to the problem of rising tuition in America. We serve as an incentive that may generate more competition between higher education institutions, thus driving down prices and making students' loans more affordable.

Photo of Mustafa Akkoc
Team

That's why bright people can get education, the capitalistic society slows down the country to be developed, we need to see this is not good solution for America anymore, it is old,   we are here to solve this problem , we should remove capitalism impact on education at least , there is no logic behind this capitalism on education, As I wrote in research phase  " A high school graduate without any qualification meaning can't perform any professional job and make money to pay any expenses is asked to pay for higher college education." , there is no logic, capitalism is creating these logical problems, that's why  we are here to solve this problem that everybody can afford the education.  there should be truck drivers in the country as well or garbage collectors, if people want to study why do we put a barrier in front  of people, let them study man and your platform should be helping them to afford it to college fee. We are trying to create alternative solutions to pay this tuition fees , it should work for everybody. 

Photo of John Matthews
Team

I couldn't disagree more, Mustafa. Who's "we"?

Photo of Mustafa Akkoc
Team

you , me , other people in the challenge

Photo of John Matthews
Team

Here's how free education would work in a socialistic society, Mustafa. 

Let's say YOU have $100. The government comes along and takes $90 from YOU. You now only have $10 to spend on your needs. They give your $90 to XYZ University to pay the salaries of the professors and other expenses, so they don't have to charge Sally Smith any tuition.

How does that make any sense? Don't you think Sally should pay for her education herself? Most people would say "yes" it's her responsibility. If she can't afford to pay, she can get loans or grants that she can pay back when she can afford it.

Leveraging competition is a way to influence higher education institutions to control their tuition levels and make it more affordable for Sally Smith to pay off her loans.

I know I won't convince you, so we'll just agree to disagree.