Supporting Innovation in Higher Education through First in the World

The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to access and complete a postsecondary education. In an era of rapid change and innovation, we have sought to encourage those colleges and universities developing new ways to serve students better, especially low-income and first-generation students.

That’s why I’m thrilled that we’ve announced the second round of the First in the World grant program. This year we will award $60 million to colleges and universities to encourage innovative new practices on campuses, including $16 million to Minority Serving Institutions.

Applying for a grant

For the first time this year, the First in the World program will have two tiers: a “development” tier for innovative projects that are supported by “strong theory” (defined in the grant announcement) and larger grants in the “validation” tier will be awarded to applications for interventions supported by significant evidence. Since a key goal of the FITW program is building an evidence base, all funded grants will include rigorous evaluation.

In the development tier, projects will be funded in three areas (with specific descriptions in the announcement):

  1. Improving teaching and learning
  2. Developing and using assessments of student learning
  3. Facilitating pathways to credentialing and transfer

In the validation tier, projects will be funded in these four areas:

  1. Improving success in developmental education
  2. Improving teaching and learning
  3. Improving student support services
  4. Influencing the development of non-cognitive factors

We seek proposals from institutions of higher education, including those that partner with other institutions or organizations. Visit the FITW website for links to the announcements, application information, and webinar details.

Call for peer reviewers

Peer reviewers, not ED staff, review and rate all FITW proposals – they play a critical role! So we need strong, knowledgeable, innovation-minded peer reviewers. If your institution is not applying for a grant, please consider applying, or encourage colleagues with the requisite skills to apply. Information can be found on the FITW website.

Building on success

The Department is excited that by the fall, we will have awarded more than $135 million to support innovation in higher education in the last two years. All of the 24 grants from the 2014 competition are underway. Some examples include:

  • Gateway Community and Technical College (KY) is redesigning programs to encourage students to progress more quickly through college, including by redesigning remediation and classroom spaces.
  • Hampton University (VA) is redesigning many courses, including through the use of project-based learning and the incorporation of technological tools (such as the Khan Academy) into courses.
  • Southern New Hampshire University is developing an online competency-based program to wholly reimagine remediation. It will include modules, assessments, practice opportunities, and games that could be embedded within a student’s academic program.

We are mindful that a key role of the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging innovation, including through funding, regulatory flexibilities, and celebrating best practices. In the FITW program, we look forward to supporting the most innovative new thinking to support first-generation and low-income students.

Ted Mitchell is the Under Secretary of Education.


  1. Attempted to join the First in the World Grant webinar, but was unsuccessful in connecting.

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