What would you do with a million dollars?

For community colleges, marketing can be challenging … especially when you don’t have the resources or funds to devote toward your marketing goals. Creating an effective marketing plan can be tough on a low budget, and we know how important it is to tell your college’s story the right way. That’s where the Million Dollar Community College Challenge comes in. 

The Lumina Foundation is awarding a one-million-dollar grant to a participating school that will help build their brand, create a strong marketing strategy, and showcase their school’s story to the community. Not only that, but nine other schools will be awarded $100,000 along with technical assistance to develop their brand and marketing efforts.

The Lumina Foundation works to create educational opportunities to make “learning beyond high school available to all.” They also work closely with other organizations to reach their goal of ensuring 60 percent of adults have a certificate, degree, certification, or other credential of value by 2025.

The Million Dollar Community College Challenge is a great opportunity for colleges around the country to showcase their value to their surrounding community. Whether your school has 2,000 or 20,000 students or is in a rural, urban, or suburban area, you’re invited to apply.

So, What’s the Million Dollar Community College Challenge?

The Million Dollar Community College Challenge invites community colleges of any size to apply. The main prize is one million dollars, along with nine runner-up grants of $100,000. Ten schools will receive grant money, and finalists will also get technical support and other additional resources to help strategize their brand.

Participants will come up with creative ideas to help illustrate their college’s value, the student experience, and how they can effectively share that with their community.

group of students high-fiving in a library because of the Million Dollar Community College Challenge.

Mary Laphen, Strategy Officer for Participation in Community Colleges at the Lumina Foundation, says the name of the challenge was intentional and aims to bring out participants’ best ideas.

“This is designed to bring resources to a community college that you may otherwise not have had … to spend specifically on branding and marketing,” says Laphen. “So, first we’re asking everyone for [their] community college’s best ideas. We want to know what they see [and] what they’re great at … what they see is what they can bring to their community.

“And then, what is their vision for how they can share that with their community best? We’re looking for creative ideas. We’re looking for ideas that really showcase what the student experience can look like, specifically for our adult learners going to a community college.

Why Should You Apply for the Million Dollar Community College Challenge?

The Million Dollar Community College Challenge aims to help colleges learn how to effectively market their school’s story. You know why your college is valuable. This challenge offers prospective students a look at everything your school can offer. 

Whether you’re a finalist or participant, you’ll be able to access free resources to help with branding strategy. These resources are available on the Lumina Foundation’s website, and finalists will work with technical assistants to perfect their strategy. These additional resources pose a great opportunity to learn more about marketing the values of your school, especially on a smaller budget.

Close-up of hands in front of a laptop screen placed on a desk. Shauna Davis, Strategy Director for Community College Participation at the Lumina Foundation, says they’re not looking for schools to pitch a catchy ad campaign, but something more meaningful.

“What we really want to know is, how do students experience your institution? What is their perception of your institution?” questions Davis. “… how can you strengthen your brand, strengthen that experience and that perception of the institution and the community?”

Colleges work closely with community members to develop job opportunities, programming, and initiate efforts to continue to grow and develop.

“So, when we think about strategy or strategic thinking, we really want to understand where the college lives,” explains Davis. “And we think about colleges, they’re living organisms. You’re serving a community of lots of different people doing lots of different things.”

Should You Wait to Apply?

Now more than ever, growing enrollment and retention is essential. Over the last two years, about 1 million fewer students have enrolled in college. In 2021, it was found that overall enrollment at community colleges nationwide was down by 13.2 percent, mostly due to the effects of the pandemic.

Two masked women having a conversation.“When we think about the many more people in our community who aren’t choosing college, or they’re not finishing, [there’s] many people who have some college and no degree,” explains Davis.

“We want to think about the people who haven’t made the choice, or the commitment, or had the ability to make the commitment to become students.”


How Can You Win the Million Dollar Community College Challenge

Graduates posing proudly with their diplomas for the camera so their college can show them off in the Million Dollar Community College Challenge.

The first step? Apply! You can read all of the entry rules here, and fill out the application here.

Once you’ve entered, you’re in the running for the one-million-dollar grant, along with one of the nine $100,000 grants. After applications close on March 15th, the ten finalists will be chosen in April. When crafting your ideas, Laphen says to go all out.

“I encourage colleges when they send us their ideas, to assume that they will be winning the million dollars,” says Laphen. “Obviously we’ll only have one million-dollar winner, but we want to know, what does that look like for your institution?

“We’re asking colleges to really step out of the box. I mean, certainly there does need to be data behind it. There does need to be strategic thinking, but with that backbone in mind, we are asking colleges to really consider, what does it look like to transform their brand?”

Davis explains the goal of the challenge isn’t for the Lumina Foundation to award the money and walk away. It’s about a deeper conversation that needs to be taking place.

“It’s our goal that [when] we launch the challenge, we’re sparking [a] kind of conversation, that’s being had in pockets, but … really have this national conversation and awareness on this,” says Davis.

“And then we want to see what those colleges do. See how they transform, see what they learn, and what they’re able to accomplish with the resources and technical assistance.”

Check out Interact’s interview with the Lumina Foundation’s Mary Laphen and Shauna Davis here to learn more about the foundation and Million Dollar Community College Challenge.

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By Published On: March 9, 2022Last Updated: September 7, 2023Categories: Blog ArticlesTags: