Herb Kohl Public Service Research Competition

The competition supports nonpartisan research by our faculty members that informs critical public policy and governance debates and advances evidence-based decision-making.

About the competition

Portrait of former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl
Former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl

Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has pledged $300,000 each year beginning in 2016 to support the research competition. The primary competition will fund:

  • hiring of La Follette student project assistants
  • collection of original data or analysis of existing data
  • salary support for faculty members who devote significant time in the summer toward the completion of their Kohl Competition research projects
  • activities to further the “impact” of the research with the public and/or public decision-makers

Learn more about the Kohl Competition application process (pdf).

Past awards

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Round seven – awarded in 2022

Round six – awarded in 2021

Earned income Tax Credit (EITC) and Intimate Partner Violence: Associate Professor Yang Wang and Professor Barbara Wolfe will collaborate on a study researching the effects of the EITC on intimate partner violence, an effect that could be large for low-income populations struggling to deal with the many stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers’ findings will be valuable for state and federal policymakers as they work to direct limited resources toward preventing intimate partner violence.

Water System Excellence Project: Associate Professor Manuel P. Teodoro plans to study how public reporting on water quality, system integrity, financial performance, affordability, and equity can change incentives for the officials who manage and regulate water.

Democracy, Prosperity, Hegemony: Global Finance and the Future of American Economic and Foreign Policy: Professor Mark Copelovitch is launching a multi-year project that explores the effects of international financial and monetary factors in shaping the most pressing research questions and policy debates about the future of American democracy, macroeconomic policy, and great-power relations in world politics.

Round five  – awarded in 2020

Climate Change Analysis and Policy. Professor Greg Nemet will be conducting new research, synthesizing the past six years of research, and communicating the results in a way that is relevant and accessible for policymakers. The results will inform policy decisions of international organizations, national governments, and sub-national governments as well. In addition, he will identify and communicate the results of this important global assessment for Wisconsin.

The following new faculty members also received furnding from the Kohl Research Competition:

  • Assistant Professor Morgan Edwards
  • Professor Philipp Koellinger
  • Assistant Professor Reed Lei
  • Assistant Professor Ross Milton
  • Assistant Professor Sam Trejo.
  • Associate Professor Christine Durrance (2021-22 academic year)
  • Assistant Professor Mariel Barnes (2021-22 academic year)

Round four – awarded in 2019

  • Capitalizing on UW–Madison’s Social Genomics Initiative. Professor Jason Fletcher will lead a team of faculty members to build an infrastructure for pursuing external grant opportunities and academic journal publications related to the La Follette School’s leadership in the science and policy issues stemming from the past decade’s genomics revolution.
  • Leading the U.S. Administrative State, 1964-2018. This project seeks to understand how state agency leaders in the United States make policy-related decisions. The key goals are to generate an objective body of evidence that will help scholars and practitioners better understand how state agency leaders see their roles and identify factors that promote more effective administrative management and policymaking in Wisconsin and other states. Susan Webb Yackee, professor of public affairs and political science
  • The Fund for Wisconsin Scholars: Effects on Labor Market Outcomes and Take-Up of Means-Tested Benefits. This research will leverage the random assignment of a need-based financial aid grant offer (the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars) and several sets of administrative records to provide experimental evidence on the effect of the financial aid offer on students’ post-education economic outcomes. Barbara Wolfe, the Richard A. Easterlin Professor of Economics, Population Health Sciences, and Public Affairs
  • The Impact of Medicare Part D on Retirement Plans. This project aims to examine the effects of Medicare Part D on adult workers’ retirement plans. The researchers focus on retirement plans because they provide important information on observed retirement behavior and on whether retirement is voluntary, which has implications for retirees’ wellbeing and their subsequent return to work. Yang Wang, associate professor of public affairs

Round three – awarded in 2018

  • In Utero Conditions, Reproductive Health Policies and Life Course Outcomes: This project will use restricted-access data on birth records to explore the impacts of policy-induced changes in access to family planning and abortion clinics on women’s and children’s health outcomes, and it will estimate causal effects of in utero exposure to high levels of air pollution on measures of adult socioeconomic status. Jason Fletcher, professor of public affairs, sociology, population health, and applied economics.
  • How Are Real and Perceived Health Care Out-of-Pocket Costs Impacting Families in Wisconsin? Collins will document the frequency and amount of medical out-of-pocket costs for typical patients by age, family size, and other characteristics based on survey and administrative data. The project will document how accurately patients and providers estimate the out-of-pocket costs of common health care services. The results will help us to understand how the shift to higher deductible health insurance plans will impact people’s health and economic well-being. J. Michael Collins, associate professor of public affairs and human ecology.
  • Surgeon Learning and Improvements in Cardiac Surgery Outcomes: Implications for Volume Threshold Policies: This research will examine whose mortality outcomes are most improved by learning through surgical experience and the introduction of new procedures – early- or late-career surgeons. It also will address volume-based referral strategies in health policy and how they can be refined through a better understanding of the relationships among outcomes, accumulated versus annual procedure volume, and surgeon years of experience. Lindsay Jacobs, assistant professor of public affairs, and Dave Weimer, professor of political economy.

Round two – awarded in 2017

  • Behavioral Insights for Public Management: This project will use large-scale experiments in real public sector settings to study how different management interventions affect the behavior of public officials, and ultimately the performance of public organizations – Don Moynihan, professor of public affairs and director, La Follette School of Public Affairs
  • Regulatory Review & Policy Change: This project will assess whether the president’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) – during its critical regulatory review process – moves the content of legally binding government rules toward greater regulatory stringency or moves rules in a deregulatory direction. It also will bring officials from other states to Wisconsin for discussions on regulatory reform – Susan Webb Yackee, professor of public affairs and political science
  • How did Solar Become Inexpensive? This project will evaluate six explanations to produce a comprehensive global assessment of solar energy, including the historical evolution, the industry’s full supply chain, the activities of people installing panels on roofs, and the motivations behind adoption behavior. While the work takes a global and historical perspective, the motivation for conducting it is to inform more immediate policy decisions – Greg Nemet, associate professor of public affairs and environmental studies
  • The Social Genomics Revolution: This project supports public presentations, academic discussions, and other activities in Wisconsin and elsewhere that explore the latest discoveries being made at the scientific frontier where genomics and the social sciences intersect – Jason Fletcher, professor of public affairs

Update May 30, 2017: After receiving his Kohl Research Competition grant, Nemet also received a prestigious Carnegie Foundation fellowship for the same project. To accept the Carnegie fellowship, Nemet must decline the Kohl funding, but he is grateful for the initial support, which provided potential back-up funding for the project and elevated the status of his Carnegie application.

Round one – awarded in 2016

  • Children in poverty: This project seeks to establish a Wisconsin-based national network linking neuroscience to poverty, expose graduate students to emerging research in this area, and amplify novel research by UW–Madison faculty members with community leaders, state policy-makers, and national media – Barbara Wolfe, the Richard A. Easterlin Professor of Economics, Population Health Sciences, and Public Affairs
  • Minimum wages and immigrants’ health: This research will examine different immigrant groups’ health response to minimum-wage increases and will inform state and federal policymakers about the impact of these wage increases on the health of immigrants, who have grown from 2.5 percent of the Wisconsin population in 1990 to 4.5 percent in 2010 – Yang Wang, assistant professor of public affairs
  • Improving food security, reducing poverty in developing countries: This project seeks to understand the extent and impact of counterfeit and poor-quality fertilizer among subsistence farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa with the goals of improving regulation and productivity and of reducing poverty in Kenya – Emilia Tjernström, assistant professor of public affairs
  • Preventing unintended pregnancy: Goals of this project include informing public policy and governance debates on contraceptive choice, advancing evidence-based decision-making in Wisconsin, and improving lives by avoiding unintended, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancies in Wisconsin – Tim Smeeding, the Lee Rainwater Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Economics
  • Understanding Alzheimer’s and dementia: This project uses the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study’s extensive data to examine why educational attainment reduces the risk of dementia – the most costly public health issue facing older adults in the United States – and to highlight the unique ways that social scientists and medical researchers can collaborate to advance the science behind Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research – Pam Herd, professor of public affairs and sociology