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First In The World



Message from the Director

The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), focuses on innovation and improvement. We support and expand higher education’s creative ideas. For more than 40 years, FIPSE has helped two and four-year colleges and universities break ground with innovative curricula, advising, training, and other interventions. 


In its newest initiative, FIPSE’s First in the World (FITW) grant program joined with the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) and its research contractors to test evidence-based interventions. This partnership provides expert technical assistance to grantees and helps them refine research-based evaluations. FIPSE continues to experiment and to find approaches that help high-need students accumulate college credits, persist, graduate on time, secure employment and transition to graduate education. As we obtain valuable information about educational practices and services that promote learning and success across a range of institutions, FITW evidence will help the Nation’s colleges to consider “what works.” 


FIPSE continues to be dedicated to fostering creative thinking about higher education. To this end, we welcome the ideas and contributions of all those who share in our mission and we look forward to working collaboratively to achieve it.



2016 First in the World (FITW) Annual Project Directors’ Meeting

The 2016 Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) First in the World (FITW) Annual Project Directors’ Meeting was held on April 4th and 5th and was attended by 175 FITW participants. 


The meeting began with opening remarks from Ralph Hines, FIPSE’s Director, Sarah Beaton, FIPSE Senior Program Manager, and Dr. James Minor, the Higher Education Programs’ Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education’s Barnard Auditorium. The meeting featured an Open Licensing Workshop, led by Michael Carroll, Director of American University’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property; and a workshop presented by Joe Portnoy, Special Assistant for Digital and Visual Media in the Department’s Office of Communication and Outreach, and Zac Chase, from the Department’s Office of Educational Technology, that focused on strategies that would enable FITW grantees to most effectively communicate their project successes to key stakeholders. 


Attendees were afforded the opportunity to convene in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) in the White House Complex for the latter portion of the meeting. At the EEOB, attendees participated in a series of discussions and “lightening round” panel presentations on: Using Predictive Analytics, The Innovation Imperative, FITW Creations and Remarkable Features, and The Purposes of Innovation. While project directors attended these presentations, FITW evaluators met with the Department’s Institute for Education Science (IES) staff and expert evaluation associates.


The two day Annual Project Directors' meeting permitted further exploration of data collection, analysis and evaluation as it pertains to the development of innovations that improve educational outcomes, make college more affordable for students and families, and contribute to effective practices that work to address persistent and widespread challenges in postsecondary education for students. 

University of Maryland System Site Visit

In June, FIPSE staff member Sarah Beaton visited the First In The World grantee, The University of Maryland System, at The University of Maryland System’s –Baltimore City (UMBC) campus. The University of Maryland System’s (UMS), Maryland Mathematics Reform Initiative (MMRI) is an impressive statewide collaboration to develop and implement high-quality statistics pathways that are relevant to students’ chosen career paths. UMS realized that many students had been forced along developmental algebra pathways that focus on mathematics topics that are irrelevant to students’ planned study selections. The UMS study was designed to evaluate whether or not students who select non-STEM majors place into developmental mathematics and enroll in a statistics pathways course, more quickly progress through developmental mathematics, accumulate more credits, and persist in college longer-- than students enrolled in traditional developmental algebra courses. The UMS project hosted a workshop for all twelve partners. At the workshop, each partner institution presented its progress in identifying non-STEM majors and in redesigning mathematics courses. During the workshop, each partner institution discussed updates to its evaluation plans in accord with the technical assistance provided by the Institute for Educational Sciences. The workshop allowed each institution to present its restructuring of its individual developmental mathematics pathway. The participants also discussed math anxiety and how to alleviate this stress from students’ workloads. These efforts will help UMS students to more effectively meet workplace challenges. The UMS FITW grant is inspiring because it represents coordination among very different types of institutions within The University of Maryland System. The project also demonstrates their commitment to ensuring transfer students and all students are taking the appropriate courses to persist in their chosen majors.


Center for Best Practices to Support Single Parent Students Site Visit

In June, FIPSE staff member Kelly Harris conducted a site visit to Endicott College’s National Center for Student Parent Programs. This Center is funded by FIPSE’s Center for Best Practices to Support Single Parent Students program, which supports the development and improvement of programs supporting college students with children by focusing on low-income, single, and other “at-risk” student parent populations. 


The National Center for Student Parent Programs works in partnership with colleges and universities, non-profit organizations, researchers, and policy makers to improve higher education access and success for student parents by researching student parent needs, identifying best practices for student parent programs, assessing project outcomes, supporting the development and expansion of college and university student parent programs across the Unites States, and advocating for policies that support postsecondary education as a two-generational strategy that moves families and their children permanently out of poverty.


Endicott College's program establishes and maintains a center that studies and develops best practices to support single parents who attend four-year institutions. The program implements innovative programs to support single parent students who are pursuing higher education; it provides technical assistance to other institutions that wish to replicate Endicott’s efforts; it is evaluating and continuously improving its efforts and it is developing and disseminating best practices.


Georgia Coalition Site Visit

In September, FIPSE staff member Claire Cornell conducted a site visit that included attendance at a meeting comprised of five FITW grantees in the Atlanta area. Having formed a Coalition, the Atlanta-area institutions represent 2014 and 2015 FITW grantee cohorts. They are: Spelman College, Central Georgia Technical College, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Kennesaw State University, and Georgia State University. At their Coalition meetings, the grantees share project strategies and evidence gathering methods. This unique alliance affords individual FITW grantees the ability to learn from each other. The Coalition includes four FITW Development grantees and one Validation Program grantee.


In order to research the effectiveness of metacognitive learning strategies in randomly-selected African Diaspora in the World course sections and peer-tutoring sessions, Spelman College has prepared selected interdisciplinary cognitive and social science faculty to teach treatment course sections and peer tutors to provide student cohorts with uniquely designed academic support. It will compare treatment course sections’ student outcomes with the outcomes (grades, credit accumulation, graduation rates) achieved by students in the control group course sections. 


Central Georgia Technical College will deploy and test an array of student support and faculty development interventions to test whether these support mechanisms can make remedial students as successful as their fully-prepared counterparts.


Georgia Tech’s wide-ranging research Center for Accessible Materials Innovation (where it develops and tests a multitude of adaptive technologies and devices) will assess the efficacy (improvement of retention and graduation rates) of providing expanded access to digital content to disabled students enrolled in Minority Serving Institutions.


With its feeder community colleges, Kennesaw State University is testing the efficacy of its Transfer Advocacy Gateway (TAG) that streamlines enrollment services, advising, and academic support. Working with trained community college professionals, Kennesaw’s Enrollment Services Specialists, Transfer Graduation Coaches, Peer Mentors, Transfer Learning Community and Peer Transfer Advisors will investigate whether this coordinated approach leads students to smooth, quick transition and graduation.


One Coalition member, Georgia State University will validate a What Works Clearinghouse*-vetted intervention. Georgia State University and its 10 fellow University Innovation Alliance universities hope to corroborate Eric Bettinger and Rachel Baker’s (Stanford University) What Works Clearinghouse-scrutinized study of technology-enhanced student coaching. Aided by an array of sophisticated academic support software programs, Georgia State and its partner-universities’ advising professionals will test whether or not treatment group students remain in college and graduate more quickly. The Georgia State administration, faculty, and advising professionals have mobilized enormous resources to move this research forward.


Guided by the Institute of Education Sciences, all FIPSE’s FITW grantees will produce evidence that supports model college graduation-boosting strategies. In using empirical research, FITW breaks new ground for the Department’s Office of Postsecondary Education such that after the cohorts complete their work, the Department will publish successful FITW research results on its What Works Clearinghouse website and thereby help the U.S. higher education community to adopt and adapt evidence-based interventions.


*The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews existing research on programs, products, practices, and policies in education. It provides educators with needed evidence-based decision-making tools and highlights results from high-quality research to answer the question “What works in education?”



Celebrating Innovation: FIPSE Stories

Do you have a "story" to share? We are seeking blogs, articles, vignettes, short videos, or any other medium that tells your narrative of innovative practices that are improving equity and outcomes for students. See below to learn more about how FITW grantees are making an impact! 


John Carroll University's Story

 Gateway Community and Technical College's Story

 Farmingdale State College's Story

 Wake Technical Community College's Story

 State University of New York at Oswego's Story


The Finish Line Project: 4-Year Degree Attainment for First-Generation College Students

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) was awarded a $3 million award grant (P116F140018) in 2014 through the First in The World Program (FITW). The “Finish Line Project” is led by Abigail Panter and the project designs, implements, and empirically evaluates academic programs and student support services to help more first generation college students (FGCSs), including rural, transfer, and historically underserved students, access, persist in, and complete postsecondary study. The project tests potential curricular and program supports for students of all majors, as well as targeted interventions for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. The project consist of a 3-pronged approach: (1) curricular innovation, (2) outreach and support, and (3) pathways for timely and affordable degree completion.


The Finish Line Project will help to identify whether, and under what conditions, transition courses support FGCS success in college and their effects persist over time. More information about the UNC-CH Finish Line Project and their collaborators can be found here.


By using Games, Technology, and Social Media, USC proposes to Improve College Access

The University of Southern California (USC) Rossier School of Education’s Pullias Center for Higher Education (Pullias Center) received a $3.2 million First in the World grant (P116F140097) in 2014. The project is led by William Tierney and includes a partnership with the Get Schooled Foundation, USC's Game Innovation Lab, and the California Student Aid Commission. With a focus on increasing access to college for low-income and underrepresented youth by providing college-readiness, enhanced technology, and effective financial aid policies, the Pullias Center’s project engages students by using mechanisms, like games and social media, that can motivate the target population to learn about college. The project addresses three national challenges relevant to increasing the rates of underrepresented and low income students enrolling in college: the need to engage and motivate students to learn about college in relevant and effective ways; the need to expand access to college and financial aid information and support; and the need to implement and sustain programs on a wide scale level.


One of the Pullias Center’s innovative tools to help prepare students for college is the “Mission: Admission Challenge,” which is part of a three-year study intended to measure the impact of role-playing video games (RPG) and social media tools on college and financial aid awareness and applications among low-income students. The first year of the project focused primarily on junior college awareness and included 60 California high schools. The challenge included more than 7,000 juniors who engaged in a wide range of online activities, including playing the Mission: Admission Challenge. Prior research indicated that the game positively affected student’s college-going efficacy and college knowledge, and the results of the challenge indicated that students who have played it are more knowledgeable about college applications. The winner of the challenge was Mare Island Technology Academy which received a $500 grant and recognition by a special guest: award-winning actress and recording artist, Keke Palmer, on Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The star served as the Academy’s “Celebrity Principal for the Day.” The academic advisor for the Mare Island Technology Academy, Jeff Katz, recognized this success by fulfilling a promise to his students that if they won the Mission: Admission Challenge, he would shave his head. More information about the undertakings of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education can be found here.


Innovations for Success@ASU to Increase Equity, Excellence, and Affordability

Arizona State University (ASU) received a $4 million First in the World (FITW) grant (P116F140280) in 2014. The project is led by M. Jeanne Wilcox and the primary objective of Success@ASU is to increase equity, excellence, and affordability for students who are from underrepresented populations. The project utilizes three distinct but complementary innovations: 1) ASU Project-based, Modular learning (ProMod), a project‐based learning pedagogy for ASU students, supplemented by foundational modules, 2) Success Plus, a two‐way texting communication support innovation for incoming ASU Freshman, and 3) High School ProMod & Supports which includes project‐based learning, mentoring, and a summer transition program preparing high school students for college.


The first annual ASU ProMod Project Day was held on April 25, 2016 at ASU. The event was highlighted in the Phoenix Union Daily newsletter. FIPSE staff member Sarah Beaton attended the event with approximately 300 students comprised of ASU freshman and high school ProMod students from three Title 1 high schools in the Phoenix Union High School District (PUHSD) - Cesar Chavez, Metro Tech and Bioscience High School. There were presentations from both ASU freshman and high school ProMod students. The student projects crossed disciplines and included relevant real world issues that impacted the local community. Some of the presentation topics included business sustainability, the impact of the 202 extension freeway on local ecosystems, crime scene genetics, film studies, and composting.  


Feedback from the students about the project-based style of curriculum was positive. With the intended goal of helping students to prepare for college, senior students who participate in the ASU ProMod project and successfully complete the project criteria can earn up to 13 ASU credits. Highlights and more information about the ASU ProMod projects and Success@ASU can be found here.


February 20, 2015Spotlight on Innovation: how Texas A&M Corpus Christi is Using Online Supplemental Instruction to Boost STEM Student Success -





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