‘First in the World’ Grants Aim to Boost Completion, Reduce Costs

Under the new "First in the World" grant program, the US Department of Education has awarded $75 million to 24 colleges and universities to support efforts to expand access to education and improve student learning while reducing costs.

The First in the World program was announced in May as part of the Obama administration's agenda to increase access to higher education as well as the completion rate.

"The First in the World grant competition is a key part of President Obama's agenda to foster innovative ideas that help keep college affordable, increase quality and improve educational outcomes for our students," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "The Department is proud to support the wide range of innovation at colleges and universities across the nation that can dramatically enhance student outcomes."

This year saw almost 500 applicants. The 24 winners chosen come from 17 states, 19 public, private and non-profit four-year institutions, and 5 two-year institutions. Six of those schools are institutions serving minorities (MSIs). Those six schools will receive $20 million in funding.

The grants will be used for projects pertaining to increasing college access and completion, increasing transfer rates, increasing STEM enrollment, and reducing the total time taken to complete a degree program.

Project ideas include creating new degree programs that run a self-paced schedule; developing an online program that would offer students access to a virtual learning community as well as wraparound coaching; offering equal access to digital content for students with disabilities; and creating a new tool that would offer high school students a view into the college application process and help with understanding the financial aid process.

All winners may access the grant money for four years.

Hampton University in Virginia will put its $3.5 million grant to use creating self-paced programs, helping over 1,000 students.

SUNY Oswego in New York State received $2.88 million, which will be used to help first-generation college students transfer from community colleges to Oswego, allowing them to earn bachelor's degrees as part of their "Transfer Gateways and Completion" program.

"We will begin immediately with our plans to target low-income, first-generation, two-year college students to help them transfer seamlessly on the path to a four-year degree," Lorrie Clemo, vice president of academic affairs and provost at SUNY Oswego said in a statement today.

Purdue University in Indiana received $2.3 million, which it will use in support of STEM students by creating new courses that provide students with active learning opportunities. The efforts of Prdue will benefit over 10,000 students.

LaGuardia Community College in New York City will use its $2.9 million grant in an effort to strengthen its curriculum offerings, increasing student engagement and success. This move will benefit thousands of high-risk students who are in the process of moving from non-credit programs to academic enrollment, as well as other students who are about to graduate from academic programs.

"The best solutions to our greatest education challenges don't come from anyone in Washington, but rather from great schools and great presidents like the ones who successfully competed for these awards," Duncan said during a call with reporters.

Duncan has asked for an additional $100 million to help fund the efforts of First in the World for 2015. He also asked for $75 million to go towards College Success Grants for Minority-Serving Institutions.

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