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Online Platform for New York Public Colleges (Updated 12/8/15)

An online platform (by state) providing information, reassurance, and networking.

Photo of Nicole Cote

Written by

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

High school students (originally across New York state, but then nationwide) who wish to pursue higher education, but are unsure if they can make it affordable for themselves.
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Informing, Reassuring, Networking

Design Statement:

NY College Library is an online platform for finding local public colleges that offer high-quality and affordable education, and establishing university connections. 

The Idea:

We will create an online platform for students looking to apply to college in New York. The website will provide a substantive listing of New York public colleges and universities that focuses on affordability, reassurance, and community.

The NY College Library will exist as a mobile site/app that provides all necessary information for each school (each with its own school page that includes: location by distance from applicant, acceptance rate, cost per credit, notable faculty, alumni and current student success stories, and etc).

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To establish a sense of confidence in the application process, and a sense of community, another key component will be the alumni/applicant networking feature for each school. Essentially, potential applicants will be able to create profiles and login to the system. Then, when they "favorite" potential schools, they will be able to see the other students who have favorited those schools, and direct message them to discuss the application process, why they chose this school, and so on.

Similarly, users will be able to direct message any alumni or current students who have profiles, as well. This creates a community for students, where they can post and read each other’s success stories, and establish alumni connections. This will help to enforce the fact that these schools really are feasible and achievable goals for these students, and provides the reassurance from peers they need to feel a part of that community.

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Lastly, to further prove the affordability aspect of these schools, we will incorporate a net cost calculator, which will allow users to select a certain school, and show how much the school will "really" cost, and how much aid will likely be received (by means of the school, state, city, and federal government). Currently, the CUNY system already has a fantastic net calculator for their schools, which we are imbedding into our system. In our group's test-runs we have found that these schools are often highly affordable, and can even be free, for low-income students with good high-school grades. As this app develops from after the prototype stage we would be keen to incorporate the SUNY schools into the CUNY calculator, as well, but for now, this feature has been a key addition to our app.

Here is a sample of results from a test-run with Baruch College:

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To test the calculator out for yourself, please go here

We would hope to eventually extend this resource across the US. 

Summarized Focal Points:

  • Community: (providing a link between future students, current students, and alumni to give the sense that this is a do-able goal, and can be achieved financially). Thus we will establish a support system/network to build confidence. 
  • Affordability: proving and reassuring that there are affordable local higher education options out there for low-income students.  


Our Inspiration and the National Problem at Hand:

General Inspiration

From our research, we found two serious burdens caused by college costs and potential exorbitant financial debt. Students are either:

1) left with oppressive student loan debt they cannot afford and that affects their quality of life,  or (perhaps even worse)

2) deterred from ever applying, because they are never led to believe college is an affordable step for them.

** In either case: it seems commonly agreed upon that a college degree is necessary in it’s commonality, in the sense that it seems to be equivalent to what a high school degree used to be. **

We were, however, inspired by many local public colleges, which are often overlooked for more prestigious or just more “known” schools. We found that many of these colleges had much lower tuition rates, and after financial aid, could be very affordable, if not free, to a large number of students. We could not find an affordable comparison for private colleges, which typically cost $50,000+ per year (even with 80% off, those schools continue to be out of reach for many). We, thus, wanted to demystify the clouds that surround these schools by: 1) providing information on their offerings (informing students that they exist and what they excel in), and 2) providing a community for security (the "yes, this has been done and you can too" idea) and for future connections (alumni who would be interested in acting as a resource).

The Problem and our Solution

  • PROBLEM: The problem that surrounds the US culture of higher education is the fact that there are many local high-quality and affordable colleges in the US, but they are severely under-utilized. 
  • A DEEPER DIVE: We believe that the under-utilization of these schools stems from 1) a lack of information and resources regarding these local schools, and 2) this idea that low-income students don't have a supportive community to reassure them that these options really are for them, and that they can utilize them successfully and affordably.  
  • SOLUTION: NY College Library: an online platform for finding local public colleges that offer high-quality and affordable education, and establishing university connections. 

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How do students learn about this?:

We are hoping that, by making something that is based on public colleges and is specific to each state, eventually this becomes a notable enough tool for us to either try to work with each state’s Department of Education, or with high school guidance counselors, or both. Thus, students would learn about this app either through the guidance counselors at public high schools or as a marketing campaign in public high schools through the local Department of Education.

How would this become a fully-implemented platform?:

We would need to:

1) obtain substantial feed-back from high school and college students on our prototype (and from the colleges involved to ensure that they agree the information is as accurate as possible),

2) attempt an alliance with the public high school systems statewide or with the Department of Education as a whole,

3) continue obtain success stories and alumni connections, and

4) program actual site based on the app.

Prototype for Feedback: 

The group's prototype for this idea is a mobile website built with Proto.Io, but can be tested on a desktop browser, as well. We encourage you to play around with the app while it is in its development phase, and let us know what you think. 

The prototype is available here.

We continue to appreciate your feedback on this! Please fill out our survey located here

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

We will need to confirm exactly what will be posted on this site, to create the most effective resource. We are currently prototyping: School / Acceptance Rate/ Specialty / Faculty /Cost Per Credit /Success Stories /Alumni/Community Network/Cost Calculator We need to continue to gain feedback on the usefulness of the above-mentioned items, and are grateful for any comments you might have!

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

- Advice on what we include, and if anything additional might be included. - Advice on how the usability of the prototype. - Personal experiences/success stories from state colleges and universities in NY (or other states)!

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

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

  • Yes

Attachments (1)


A general preliminary site map/sketch for our platform.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Alexandra Alden

Alex from Path to Pitching here - Wow! You guys have developed your idea alot! How many people did you prototype with? How would you generate revenue?  You should incorporate some of the milestones to help you better flesh out the business side:

Finally some logistical questions about the Path to Pitching: If accepted would you be able to commit to a residential program (most are 2-6 months)? Also do you have two people who could serve as co-founders?

Keep up the good work!

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Nicole and team, the idea is really nicely articulated. I like how you highlighted the main insights that emerged from your research and explained clearly the 2 focal points of your idea:
"Community: (providing a link between future students, current students, and alumni to give the sense that this is a do-able goal, and can be achieved financially). Thus we will establish a support system/network to build confidence.

Affordability: proving and reassuring that there are affordable local higher education options out there for low-income students. "

In terms of prototyping, I think you have a good start with the app and you can get feedback from students for the usability but also for the value of the information provided. It would be great to reach out to 11th graders who start thinking about college applications. You could contact some public high schools in NY and talk with the college counselors. These are a great way to get in touch with high school kids. 
I think starting local and focusing on NY state for a pilot is a great idea.

I like Alexandra's suggestion of adding a "how to pay section" although the calculator might already play that role. Maybe some of the stories from alumni could focus on the affordability aspect while others could focus on the value and quality of education.


Photo of Nicole Cote

Thank you for your comments and advice, Anne-Laure! We will have to continue look into some additional prototyping options; also, the newest update to the app will be active at the same link tomorrow, which we are happy to say will include a few alumni quotes. Thank you again!  

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Thanks Nicole. I thought of your team when I read this article:
It might be an interesting way to think of reaching out to some high schoolers who might not necessarily download the app.

Photo of Youngkoun Choi

That's good idea! Can be that developed to cyber-school?

Photo of Nicole Cote

Hi Youngkoun. For this idea we are more interested in working with successful, affordable, and under-utilized schools that exist locally for students, in an effort to think positively about publicly affordable options for low-income students and providing them with a sense of confidence in paying, rather than the current model: lionizing notable private institutions whose tuition costs are out of reach for many Americans. A cyber-school is certainly a great idea, just not an intention for this project. There is the possibility with cyber schooling for public-colleges that the in-state tuition rates would be messed-up, and our idea really hinges around those cheaper rates. Thanks so much for the comment!

Photo of Nirbhay Shah

Hi Youngkoun. Thanks for your suggestion. I assume, most of the cyber schools/ online degree programs are offered by private universities. Even if their tuition is cheaper than their "hands on" counter parts, they are still expensive than local public colleges. The idea glorifies/ highlights the public colleges in the users city or state by showing them the options that they could look forward to.   

Photo of Alexandra Alden

Great idea guys! I think a great way to focus that more on the cost of college would be to include a 'How to Pay' section for each college that would aggregate their financial aid information. You would need to work with the Financial Aid offices in the universities to determine what they offer.

Also have you thought about joining our Path to Pitching initiative?

Photo of Nicole Cote

Thanks, Alexandra! I am interested in your suggestion of a "How to Pay" section! I think in our newest revise we sort of touched on that with the net cost calculator; I think that the calculator in some cases might show the exact source of financial aid, though I could see the usefulness of designing something that primarily informs about what is included. Thanks again for your comment!

Photo of Patrick Moraitis

Hello everyone,

The team & I have created our first prototype for this idea, currently it's a mobile website built with, but you can test it on a desktop browser as well

Check it out and let us know what you think, thanks!

Photo of Nicole Cote

Thanks for positing this for us, Patrick! I also added it into the post, just to make as visible as possible!

Photo of Anumit Sasidharan

Hey, this is something along the lines of what we were thinking. But could you explain why you are limiting it to just New York Public colleges?

Photo of Nicole Cote

Hi Anumit, glad the topic is inspiring to you! We are limiting to NY state colleges to start as we are keen to establish this system and give it a strong foothold as a resource for the public high schools. For this reason, we want to work with the NY state Department of Education to help establish this platform. Our goal is to work closely with one state (a state we are all familiar with) and obtain feedback in the process, and eventually move to the rest of, perhaps, the mid-Atlantic region or the northeast. Of course, eventually, the idea would to be able to move this idea across all states; however, it seems that thinking too grandiose in the beginning by trying to work with all states, would thus consequently not be about developing a strong platform that works with each specific state's needs in mind (as the target audience would be far too broad). This is not something we are interested in doing. I hope this helps! Thanks for your comment!

Photo of Patrick Moraitis

Also worth mentioning that in-state colleges are substantially more affordable than out-of-state colleges, so the main focus of this idea is provide students with information about their local public colleges. We just limited it to NY for now for the purposes of proof of concept, but it could be applied to any state.

Thanks for your feedback!

Photo of Nicole Cote

Thanks for the addition!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Intriguing idea Nicole and team! Perhaps you might consider helping people better grasp how this idea could play out by describing some of the proposed activities you've outlined. Check out this example: where a few simple scenarios were created to explain the idea in a human-centered way.

Photo of Riya Choksi

Great idea, very inspiring :)

Photo of Nicole Cote

Thank you, Riya! I'm glad you enjoyed it!