Investing in Higher Education Innovation

As I have written previously, much is changing in higher education.  Student demographics have shifted significantly, as have the demands of a fast-evolving workforce.  Technology, powerful insights from brain science, and research on teaching and learning are creating vast new possibilities.

In order to build our economy and our democracy, we must invest in the kinds of evidence-based innovations that expand access, affordability, and success to communities that are not currently well served, such as students who would be the first in their families to go to college, those from low-income families, and students of color.

This is exactly what our First in the World (FITW) grant program seeks to do.

Today the Department of Education is awarding nearly $60 million in FITW grants to 17 colleges, universities, and organizations.

This year’s highly competitive applicant pool demonstrated the innovation and creativity flourishing at all kinds of institutions.  Grants will fund projects with a range of goals and approaches, including proactive advising and support services guided by predictive analytics, redesign of online gateway courses to increase student engagement, integration of adaptive learning software into a short-term bridge program, and open source developmental courses delivered through mobile learning apps. Read a few examples of these terrific projects and a list of all of this year’s recipients.

I’m especially pleased that nine of the 17 winning applications came from minority serving institutions (MSIs), three of which are also Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  These MSIs and HBCUs will receive a total of over $30 million in funding.  I was also pleased to see proposals from strong and broad collaborations: we simply cannot achieve the impact we need with every campus acting alone.

I only wish we were able to fund many more of the high quality applications we received. And in fact, while the President’s FY2016 budget requested $200 million for FITW, Congressional budget proposals have zeroed out the program. Without a change to those budget proposals, we will not be able fund these critical innovations going forward.

Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s grants, and our deepest thanks to them and to all the FITW applicants for their leadership and their commitment to the success of all our nation’s students.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education