Achieving the American Dream

Do you have an idea that could reinvigorate your community’s shrinking middle class?

University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins, on May 24, announced a new statewide, presidential initiative called The American Dream Ideas Challenge, that will find, fund, and develop ideas to ensure a vibrant middle class in Utah. The university was selected by Schmidt Futures to be a part of the Alliance for the American Dream, a coalition of four research universities, including University of Wisconsin— Madison, Arizona State University, and Ohio State University. The U is tasked with increasing the net income of 10,000 middle-class Utah households by 10 percent by 2020. There is wide consensus that the path to opportunity and prosperity in America has eroded over the past 50 years, as evidenced by a decline in the share of middle-class households. The alliance believes that a healthier and more robust middle class will reduce income disparity and ensure upward economic mobility, enhancing opportunities for more Americans, and increasing our country’s competitiveness. With this goal in mind, Utah’s American Dream Ideas Challenge will fund the most compelling ideas to help foster access to and support for a thriving middle class.

The challenge is made possible by an initial contribution from Eric Schmidt of $1.5 million to each participating university. Schmidt is the founder of Schmidt Futures, the project’s spon­sor. He also is a technical advisor to Alphabet Inc., a member of its board of directors, and served as its former executive chair­man. Alphabet Inc. is the parent company of Google.

The challenge is seeking creative proposals that focus on sustainable ways to expand access to and increase stability of the middle-class in Utah — whether through policy ideas or investable concepts for public benefit in the areas of health care, workforce develop­ment, education, trans­portation, housing, and support for families. These proposals can come from individu­als, organizations, and entities serving com­munities throughout the State of Utah. The University is looking to engage a broad range of perspectives and encourages ideas from community members, government agencies or entities, nonprofits, business and thought leaders, as well as faculty, staff, and students from universities and colleges across the state.

With its history as the state’s flagship university, the U is well positioned to lead the challenge and convene a multitude of campus and community leaders and innova­tors. “It’s not just about targeting the middle class. It’s about opening avenues to become part of the middle class,” says Pam Perlich, the Gardner Policy Institute’s director of demographics and a member of the alliance’s executive leadership team.

The first round of proposals is due August 30. In September, a community advisory board will select the top 10 ideas and each will receive $10,000 for further refinement and development. In the second round, the top three ideas will be selected and each will receive $30,000 to prepare for the national level competition. The top three ideas from Utah will compete with the top three ideas from the other alliance members, and Schmidt Futures will select three-to-four ideas to fund with up to $1 million.

“America needs a strong middle class,” says Schmidt. “Our future depends on it.”

Additional information is available online at

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