Department Awards $60 Million in First in the World Grants to 18 Colleges, Universities and Organizations

Archived Information

Department Awards $60 Million in First in the World Grants to 18 Colleges, Universities and Organizations

Grants will help institutions test and develop innovative strategies to improve student outcomes
September 21, 2015

Note: This has been updated to reflect an additional $1,919,799 grant in FY 15 to Excelsior College (NY). Total recommended funding is contingent on future Congressional appropriations.

As part of the Obama Administration's ambitious agenda to drive innovation and keep a higher education within reach for all Americans, the Education Department today awarded approximately $60 million to 18 colleges and universities in its First in the World (FITW) grant program.

"We all know that innovation can take many forms and as a key part of the Administration's goal to promote college access and affordability, the First in the World program aims to support a wide range of innovation to improve student outcomes," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "We are pleased to support these educational leaders who are driving exciting innovations to achieve those goals. Given the importance of such an investment in America's future and with college being more important than ever, it makes absolutely no sense that Republicans in Congress want to end this program."

The 18 recipients represent 14 states; ten public, private, and nonprofit four-year institutions; five public two-year institutions; and two educational agencies or organizations. Nine of the 18 winning applications were submitted by minority serving institutions (MSIs), three of which were Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Duncan will highlight the leadership of those HBCUs today in his remarks at the annual National HBCU Week Conference in Washington, DC.

This year, there were more than 300 applications submitted for FITW's two competitions: development grants to seed and rigorously evaluate earlier stage innovations, and validation grants to test, at a broad scale, interventions supported by significant evidence.

Many of the grants will support collaborations among multiple partners—among as many as ten colleges or universities, between two- and four-year institutions, or with non-profit partners focused on college access and student data. In order to expand the evidence base on effective interventions, all grantees are required to have a strong evaluation plan that meets What Works Clearinghouse standards.

The competition solicited applications in a number of focus areas, such as improving teaching and learning, improving student support services, developing and using new assessments of learning, and improving success in developmental education.

Examples of funded projects include:

  • Central Carolina Community College received a validation grant for the "Carolina Works" project to partner with nine other North Carolina community colleges to implement proactive and individualized student support services, informed by an early alert and advising system based in predictive analytics.
  • Spelman College, an HBCU, will incorporate new teaching and learning strategies into its curriculum and student experience. It will train faculty and peer tutors on "metacognitive learning," which can lead to an increasing "growth mindset" and other positive student outcomes.
  • The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education will scale and enhance its Passport project, which creates seamless transfer of lower-division general education requirements across participating institutions based on students' demonstration of learning outcomes regardless of courses or credits completed.

This is the Obama Administration's second round of FITW Grants. Given the high level of interest in and need for innovation in postsecondary education, the President's FY2016 budget has requested $200 million for First in the World grants. However, Congress's current budget proposals would eliminate First in the World completely.

2015 First In The World (FITW) Grantees:



  • California State University, Los Angeles, Auxiliary Services—$2,822,776
    Lisa Kohne,, (323) 343-2219
  • San José State University Research Foundation, San José—$3,000,000
    Andrew Feinstein,, (408) 924-2400


  • Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Boulder—$2,999,432
    Patricia Shea,, (303) 541-0302


  • Delaware State University, Dover—$2,647,764
    Alton Thompson,, (302) 857-6100


  • Miami-Dade College, Miami—$2,888,033
    Alicia Gioivinazzo,, (305) 237-2757


  • Georgia State University, Atlanta—$8,969,115
    Timothy Renick,, (404) 413-2580
  • Spelman College, Atlanta—$2,665,497
    Francesina Jackson,, (404)-270-5582


  • Bossier Parish Community College, Bossier City—$1,838,381
    Allison Martin,, (318) 678-6191


  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge—$2,891,882
    Karen Willcox,, (617) 253-3503


  • University System of Maryland, Adelphi—$2,998,464
    Nancy Shapiro,, (301) 445-2797


North Carolina

  • Central Carolina Community College, Sanford—$9,200,000
    Brian Merritt,, (919) 718-7426
  • Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh—$2,691,156
    Bryan Ryan,, (919) 866-5146

New Jersey

  • Bergen Community College, Paramus—$2,600,468
    Ursula Parish Daniels,, (201) 447-7100

New York

  • Excelsior College, Albany—$1,919,799
  • Farmingdale State College (Research Foundation State University of New York), Farmingdale—$2,925,507
    Beverly Kahn,, (631) 420-2396


  • John Carroll University, University Heights—$1,293,616
    Terry Mills,, (216) 397-4455