Only 58 percent of students in the United States graduate from college, a number that falls behind other wealthy democracies. Policy makers turned to students for a way to increase graduation rates in the 2016 Policy Solutions Challenge, and U graduate students Fatema Binte Ahad and Annette Harris took first place.

The two students in the U’s Master of Public Policy program proposed three programs. The first is the College Completion Loan Forgiveness Program, where students would be able to have up to $13,500 in federal student loans forgiven. A second program, called the Accelerated Learning Community Programs, would provide uniform academic support for all students attending a U.S. college. The final proposal was to create a Predictive Algorithmic Model, to identify factors that put a student at risk of dropping out and intervene before it happens.

Of the teams competing, Ahad and Harris’s plans were the most cost-effective for both students and the government, pushing them ahead of competitors from American University and the University of Arkansas, the second and third place recipients.

Policy Solutions Challenge, which addresses a different policy issue each year, has three phases – the first round, semifinals, and national finals, held in Washington DC at host school American University.

“Each round becomes progressively more complex,” Harris said. “The whole process took us about three and a half months.”

The first two rounds were done via electronic submissions, while the final required a presentation for a panel of judges of professional policy analysts. In the final round, judges based assessments on five criteria – quality of the problem definition, analytical quality of the policy proposals, quality of the final cost-effectiveness estimate, quality of the presentation and whether or not the policy proposals and presentation demonstrate political feasibility.

This year isn’t the first time the U competed in the challenge. In 2014, U students Anna Brower, Laura Briefer and Clare Tobin Lence won with their proposals to improve employment and earnings for young workers. The U took first place again in 2015 when addressing ways to provide an adequate and affordable water supply with students Christopher Collard, Elizabeth Larsen, Tyler Murdock and Gavin Noyes.

Policy Solutions Challenge USA’s website states each year they propose all of the submissions to key decisions makers within the government and encourage them to consider the student-developed approaches. Harris said she hasn’t been made aware of when this will happen nor to whom the proposals will be presented.


Emily Anderson
Emily is the news editor at the Daily Utah Chronicle. She studies journalism and the Middle East. Since 2015, Emily has covered stories from nearly every beat at the Chronicle. She is also a contributor at SLUG Magazine, and has interned with RadioWest, KUER News and The Salt Lake Tribune.


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