Answers to Questions that Public Affairs Schools Have about Participating in Policy Solutions Challenge USA
Why should a school enter a team into the Challenge?
The primary reason to enter a team is that some students at the school very much would like to participate in this type of nationwide, intensive competition in policy analysis. Our experience so far is that there are students at every school who would find this to be a terrific opportunity. We routinely hear from teams that participating in the Challenge was their single best educational experience related to policy analysis. The students enter into the equivalent of a high pressure consulting engagement that motivates them to produce a professional quality set of, "deliverables," under deadline, and learn that they can apply the general policy analysis skills acquired in their degree programs to a very important issue on the national agenda. The teams also get to meet and compete against students from other schools, and through that opportunity see that they are part of a broader community of professionals in the field of policy analysis.
Another reason to enter team is to represent the school's commitment to public policy analysis education. By competing in the Challenge, the school gains visibility in the context of an event that focuses on the quality of its education and the accomplishments of its students. The Challenge is unique in that it focuses on showing the world the amazing and important skills at policy analysis that the schools are developing in their students. The school certainly can use the Challenge team to generate excellent publicity for itself, through articles on its own website and through interesting news organizations in the activity. The national office of the Challenge pushes out all of the policy analysis products produced by the teams to a wide range of policy makers and analysts concerned with the topic of the competition. The result is heightened awareness among potential employers of what a school's students, "bring to the table," when it comes to professional training in the field.
How can students participate in the Challenge when they are already so busy completing a degree program?
Our recommendation is that the school offer students a way to use participation in the Challenge to satisfy a graduation requirement. Here are some examples:
If the school has a client project capstone, allow the Challenge team to use the competition for that capstone. At whatever point that the competition ends for the team, then allow the students to continue working on the topic perhaps with an external client.
If the school has a policy analysis concentration, allow the Challenge team to use the competition to satisfy some of the credit requirements for the concentration.
A third alternative is to allow the Challenge team to earn general elective credits toward graduation.
Schools can establish additional requirements beyond participation in the Challenge in order to ensure that the volume of work completed by the team is worthy of the course credits afforded through participation. The key point is that it is very straightforward to have participation in the Challenge not result in additional educational burdens on the team.
How much will it cost the school to participate in the Challenge?
The Challenge strives to minimize the expense of participation. Participating in a regional Challenge often means driving rather than flying to the site, and there usually are inexpensive hotels available. The registration fee has been reduced to encourage participation. If a school has the maximum of five students on its team, and can house them in three hotel rooms for two nights, then the total cost of participation is in the range of $1,300. If a school wins at the regional level and choose to attend the national finals in Washington, DC, then the maximum cost is in the range of $3,000 to $4,000 depending on airfare and the number of students on the team. Some schools that otherwise lack the resources to support participation have been able to get assistance from the central university administration and also from fundraising appeals to alumni. At the end of the day, raising a total of $5,000 for a team to compete in both a regional Challenge and the national finals should not be a major obstacle to participation.
Of course, the most effective way for a school to reduce the cost of participation is to host one of the regional Challenges! The benefits include a waiver of the registration fee for the local host's team, and saving all of the costs of transporting the team to the competition.
On balance, do the benefits of participating in the Challenge exceed the costs?
We certainly think so. We have heard very often from the participating schools that they use the Challenge team to market their degree programs to prospective students. It helps with recruitment to have the visibility for the school on the Challenge website, and to have one or more trophies on display for potential students to see during a visit. We also have heard that participation in the Challenge helps to validate the educational experience for all students in the program - they can see that what they are learning is appreciated by others across the U.S. and is similar in content to offerings at other schools. Students also know from the interactions with the competition judges that their ideas are viewed with respect and interest among experts in the field. Having that external validation is a major benefit for the school.
Is anyone making a profit off of the Challenge?
The answer is a definite, "no." The Challenge technically is a for-profit operation but eventually may be transformed into a stand-alone nonprofit. All of the income generated from team registration fees goes to support direct costs. Those costs include website hosting, trophies, and event insurance. The Challenge currently does not pay honoraria to the expert judges. Staff of the national Challenge volunteer as many as 200 hours per year to the event. The local hosts of the regional and national competitions directly support their costs such as meeting room rental, a/v services, and catering. The Challenge voluntarily provides a detailed financial report to the local hosts and communicates with the hosts regarding finances to ensure transparency.