Introducing the Beautiful Minds competition on innovating higher education

Meet the three organizations with a chance to win $50,000.

How can we innovate education systems to prepare people to succeed in the rapidly evolving workforce? That’s the driving question at Lumina Foundation. Founded in 2000, Lumina Foundation is working toward the ambitious goal of helping 60% of adults in the US obtain a quality credential by 2025 — a benchmark that labor economists say the country needs to hit in order to meet shifting social and economic demands.

Helping more people earn college degrees is a big part of that goal — especially when it comes to historically marginalized populations that have long faced barriers within the American higher education system. But college degrees are just one part of the puzzle. Facing technological evolution and new demands in the workplace, Lumina Foundation is working to equip adults with any high-quality, industry-recognized credential that will help them succeed in their chosen career path. 

To meet that goal, Lumina Foundation is overseeing the Beautiful Minds competition, which will award prize money to three innovative organizations that are helping US adults prepare for and succeed in our fast-changing world. The competition began on March 23, 2022, and Freethink has since posted videos on each of the three organizations. You decide who wins by simply hitting “like” — the video with the best like to dislike ratio will win. 

Each organization is eligible for prize money:

  • 1st place wins $50,000
  • 2nd place wins $15,000
  • 3rd place wins $10,000

Here’s a quick look at the three organizations participating in the Beautiful Minds competition.

Reskilling Adults: EKCEP

The recent decline of the US coal industry has jeopardized the careers of thousands of workers, especially in Appalachian regions where coal mining had been the lifeblood of local economies for decades. To diversify the economies of these hard-hit communities, the Gene Haas eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI) is working to equip people — many of whom are former coal miners — with more modern skillsets, including training on Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining, programming, and machine operation.

“We’re thrilled to bring 21st Century manufacturing to the mountains,” said Kathy Walker, who spent 30 years in the coal industry before becoming the director of eKAMI.

Returning Student: Complete 2 Compete 

How do you imagine the typical US college student? Although some might picture an 18-year-old freshman moving into a dorm, the reality is that many students are older, working part- or full-time jobs, and raising families while also pursuing degrees. Due to these challenges, many US adults have had to hit “pause” on college, leaving them with only partial credit toward their degree. 

In Mississippi, Complete 2 Compete is working to help these students cross the finish line. The initiative offers accelerated and flexible degree programs, mentoring, financial assistance, and other services to help adults with partial college credit complete their degrees. 

“Support is sometimes underestimated,” Amber Palmer, Project Coordinator at Complete 2 Compete, told Freethink. “The lives of our students are tremendously impacted by earning a degree. They have gone to gain employment opportunities, promotions on the job. They have proven to their children and themselves that despite particular circumstances or challenges, goals can be achieved.”

Earn and Learn: District 1199C Training Fund

In 2020, many states passed laws requiring early childhood educators to have a college degree. But considering that earning a requisite degree can cost up to $25,000, the legislation has posed challenges for many educators who are trying to simultaneously build their careers, obtain a degree, and navigate other responsibilities, like raising a family.

In Philadelphia, the District 1199C Training Fund is working to help educators obtain degrees without slowing career progression. The fund offers an apprenticeship that includes 4,000 hours of on-the-job learning, for which apprentices simultaneously earn college credit and a wage. 

This allows employers to build up their workforce from within: By joining the apprenticeship and paying just $500, employers can make sure current employees are getting the degree they need without sacrificing their existing jobs and relationships with students.

Do you know of an initiative that aligns with Lumina Foundation’s goal of supporting scalable adult-learning opportunities outside of the traditional education system? Connect with us by posting #Beautifulminds on Freethink social media or in the comments section of any of the videos featured in the competition, which runs until May 31.

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