While other schools offer prizes, Penn's effort appears to offer more money..
"I don't know of anything that's even close to that big," said Jeffrey Selingo, author of College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students and a contributing editor to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Gutmann said she wanted to create a prize on the order of the prestigious Rhodes or Marshall scholarships, and offer it in a way that gets an entire senior class from an elite university focused on civic engagement and innovative thinking. She said she knew of no other university that had created such a prize.
"We want this to be something that isn't their second or third choice, but their first choice," Gutmann said. "I think this is going to create a cadre of students who are committed to civic engagement."
Colleges large and small increasingly are looking for ways to tie what students learn in the classroom to the real world, Selingo said. Davidson College in North Carolina, for example, offers paid "impact fellowships" to recent graduates who work with nonprofit organizations on critical health, education, and environmental issues.
Penn's new prize will pay for up to three projects per year; students can apply individually or in groups of up to three.
Undergraduates in good academic standing are eligible. Students also must have completed at least three quarters of the credits needed for their bachelor's degree, and be scheduled to graduate this December, next May, or in August 2015. More details about the process will be offered in the fall.
The money for the prize will come from anonymous donors and from fund-raising, Gutmann said. She will appoint a committee to select semifinalists, and she will pick the finalists, she said.
Gutmann sent an e-mail this week to rising seniors, about 2,400 students in all, notifying them of the prize. "I wanted them to think about this," she said, "and come up with ideas over the summer."
Ideas, that is, for how to change the world.