University of Wisconsin–Madison

Schmidt Futures awards UW-Madison $1.5 million to forge new pathways to boosting the middle class

CONTACT: DreamUp, 608-265-1054 or

What: Launch event for new $1.5 million initiative, Alliance for the American Dream, launched by UW–Madison and Schmidt Futures, to produce innovative ideas for increasing Dane County families’ income

Partners: Schmidt Futures (a “venture facility for public benefit”), UW–Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty and the Vice Chancellor for Graduate Research and Graduate Education

MADISON –Schmidt Futures, a venture facility for the public benefit, has awarded UW–Madison $1.5 million to produce innovative ideas for increasing the net income of 10,000 Dane County families by 10% by 2020. The initiative, known as the Alliance for the American Dream, is a new community-university collaboration that aims to promote shared prosperity and increase American competitiveness. UW–Madison is one of four universities selected to participate in the inaugural program (the others are Arizona State University, the University of Utah, and The Ohio State University).

“The UW–Madison community has long been a pioneer in thinking about new ways to lift people out of poverty,” said Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, technical advisor to Alphabet, a member of its board of directors, and former executive chairman. “We are excited to support them as they fuel an innovation engine to help distressed communities and expand the middle class.”

The Alliance for the American Dream initiative is committed to “raising the level of collective ambition in driving the breadth, depth, and pace of innovation across the country.” In many ways, UW’s Institute for Research in Poverty is the ideal partner for tackling the challenges of poverty and the shrinking middle class.

IRP is the nation’s longest-standing center for poverty research, and currently serves as the national Poverty Research Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Researchers collaborate across disciplines to learn more about the causes and consequences of poverty and inequality, and the impact of related policies and programs, with the goal of reducing poverty and inequality to improve the well-being of the American people.

“IRP has been a primary contributor to research on poverty and related policy during its 52 years at the university,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Now, with this grant from Schmidt Futures, the center has a direct support for expanding the middle class and improving the lives of people here in Dane County.”

As a first step, the Alliance for the American Dream initiative will facilitate community forums, meetings and interviews, and engage in data analysis to help define and understand Dane County’s economic challenges. IRP researchers, including graduate students, will work with campus and community members to generate potential solutions and proposal ideas. At least 10 ideas (all of which must include campus-community collaborations) will be supported with additional funding and resources to develop full proposals. By December 2018, three proposals will be selected by a joint community-university advisory board and submitted to Schmidt Futures, where they will be considered along with the final entrants from each of the participating universities. At least one team from each university will advance to receive continuing support in 2019. A similar process will take place starting in 2019 to identify an additional round of innovative ideas.

“IRP is thrilled to lead this bold, new initiative, and to marshal the abundant intellectual and creative resources of this campus and this community to improve the lives of families in Dane County and beyond, in concrete ways. This is both a practical and visionary expression of the Wisconsin Idea, and we are anxious to begin,” said Lawrence Berger, director of IRP and a professor in the School of Social Work.

Berger will co-lead the initiative, along with J. Michael Collins, the Fetzer Family Chair in Consumer & Personal Finance in the School of Human Ecology, associate professor at the La Follette School of Public Affairs, and Faculty Director of the Center for Financial Security; and Laura Dresser, associate director of COWS and assistant clinical professor of macro practice in the School of Social Work.

The Vice Chancellor for Graduate Research and Graduate Education (VCRGE) will support the initiative with an on-campus competition to sponsor research with real-world implications for increasing shared prosperity in key aspects of American life, including social and economic well-being.

UW’s Alliance for the American Dream initiative will launch on May 16 at the UW South Madison Partnership at Villager Mall on Madison’s south side. Speakers will include Chancellor Rebecca Blank, and Renee Moe, President and CEO of United Way of Dane County. After opening remarks and an opportunity to learn how to engage in the initiative, attendees will participate in a networking reception and tour of the partnership space.

In addition to media, attendees will include Cassie Crockett and Eric Braverman from Schmidt Futures, community leaders, graduate students, Wisconsin business leaders, campus leadership and faculty, and members of the public.

For more information on the Alliance for the American Dream.