ACE Selects Four Blockchain Innovation Challenge Winners to Expand Economic Opportunity to Underserved Learners

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Phase 1 winners in Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, and Utah will each receive $150,000 to apply emerging technology to empower social and economic mobility

WashingtonFeb. 11, 2021—The American Council on Education (ACE) today announced four winners for the first phase of the Blockchain Innovation Challenge, a $900,000 competition funded by the U.S. Department of Education to identify ways that blockchain technology can help disadvantaged learners gain more control over their educational records and more equitably access economic opportunity. The winners are collaborations involving K-12, higher education, technology providers, and public agencies that will pilot new applications of the nascent technology to facilitate more secure, streamlined sharing of learning records and create stronger connections between education and work.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of exploring new solutions that can better serve learners at every stage of their educational journey,” said Kara Freeman, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ACE and a member of the Education Blockchain Initiative Steering Committee. “These initiatives seek to reach underserved populations and improve economic mobility with a more just, equitable system by leveraging new technologies to improve information-sharing and expanding Access.”

The Phase 1 winners of the Blockchain Innovation Challenge include:

• Student1, in collaboration with the Nebraska Department of Education and Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, to create comprehensive learner records for the one-third of all Nebraska K-12 students who are involved with multiple state educational, judicial, or behavioral services. Other Nebraska state-level partners include Children and Family Services, Behavioral Health, Juvenile Court, Job Corp, and the Department of Correctional Services.

• Texas Woman’s University, to establish a consortium of institutions in the North Texas region that use a shared credentialing platform to allow students to store and share their educational records with colleges and employers. Partners include the University of Texas-Arlington, Texas A&M University-Commerce, North Central Texas College, Carrolton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, and GreenLight.

• The Lifelong Learner Project, Powered by Teachers, to develop a digital wallet in which teachers can store and access their credentials, certifications, and learning resources and securely share these verifiable credentials with entities such as state licensing systems, human resources departments, and learning management systems. The project is led by RANDA Solutions, in partnership with the Utah State Board of Education, ETS, Digital Promise, University Instructors, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Blockframe, Fluree, Evernym, Velocity Network Foundation, IDRamp, PhilosBDL, UPD Consulting, IATC, Credential Engine, and IMS Global.

• UnBlockEd, led by the University of Arizona along with Georgia Institute of Technology, Fluree, and the Gardner Institute, will create an open transfer exchange that will empower college students by streamlining transfer credit recognition, leading to more efficient and equitable transfer articulation processes.

The Blockchain Innovation Challenge is part of the Education Blockchain Initiative, which launched in 2020 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education to explore the potential of distributed ledger technology to equitably empower learners to translate their educational outcomes into economic opportunity. ACE is partnering with the Presidents Forum, which managed the application review and selection process, to provide technical assistance to the winners. Independent reviewers and the Education Blockchain Initiative Steering Committee evaluated the proposals using a rigorous, three-round review process that emphasized three main criteria: quality of design, technological approach, and sustainability.

“Now more than ever, our nation must be willing to explore and implement new innovations that help underserved learners more seamlessly transition between education and employment,” said Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, chair of the ACE Board of Directors, and member of the President’s Forum. “These projects demonstrate the potential of blockchain as a new and promising tool to do just that: empower learners to share their skills and pursue opportunities for economic mobility, while also forging tighter connections between education providers and the world of work.”

Phase 1 winners each received $150,000 to establish a minimum viable project this spring that demonstrates the potential to implement their solution. Those selected to continue to Phase 2 will share an additional $300,000 to fully implement their pilot Projects.

For more information on the Blockchain Innovation Challenge and the Education Blockchain Initiative, please visit https://www.acenet.edu/Research-Insights/Pages/Education-Blockchain-Initiative.aspx.

About ACE

ACE is a membership organization that mobilizes the higher education community to shape effective public policy and foster innovative, high-quality practice. As the major coordinating body for the nation’s colleges and universities, our strength lies in our diverse membership of more than 1,700 colleges and universities, related associations, and other organizations in America and abroad. ACE is the only major higher education association to represent all types of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions: two-year and four-year, public and private. For more information, please visit www.acenet.edu or follow ACE on Twitter @ACEducation

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