College & Workforce Readiness

Colleges, Organizations Win $60 Million to Boost College Access, Completion

By Catherine Gewertz — September 21, 2015 3 min read
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As part of its push to get more students into and through college, the Obama administration Monday awarded $60 million to colleges, universities, and community groups to work on projects to boost college completion.

In a call with reporters, Undersecretary Ted Mitchell noted that nine of the 17 grants were given to minority-serving institutions. He said that while higher education has served many students well, too many students—largely those from low-income and minority backgrounds—"have been left behind by institutions that cost too much, weren’t structured to support their success, or didn’t have the resources to serve them.”

The winners, culled from among 300 applications, include “development” grants to help newer ideas grow and be evaluated, and “validation” meant to try more established ideas on a bigger scale. The administration sought out applications in certain areas, such as improving student support services, improving teaching and learning, and getting stronger outcomes in developmental education.

Nearly every grantee will use its money to work on better outcomes in higher education. But one will focus on improving student access to higher education. Delaware State University will use a $2.6 million grant for its Access to Success project, which is working to help first-generation and low-income students, who are underrepresented on college campuses, find good college matches. The project is developing a process that will generate a list of colleges, tailored to each student, where the student has the best chances of being accepted and graduating.

Working on Completion

Central Carolina Community College won a $9.2 million validation grant to expand a student coaching program that pairs students with faculty and staff members for academic and personal support. The program in Sanford, N.C., uses predictive data to form an “early alert” system, helping coaches focus on areas where students are most at risk for poor performance. Bud Marchant, the president of the college, said during the press call that the college has increased student retention by 13 percent since the program began in 2012. The grant money will allow it to expand the “student success center” to nine other community college campuses in North Carolina.

Spelman College will use a $2.6 million grant to focus on metacognition to deepen students’ learning and help them complete college. A team of researchers will examine ways to teach students about the skills, habits, and practices that lead to good learning, Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell said during the press call.

Many students work hard and believe they’ve learned the material, often reading it several times, Campbell said. But re-reading doesn’t by itself lead to mastery, and students need to be aware of the skills that do, such as the chance to have a discussion with others about what they’re learning, she said.

The researchers will teach Spelman faculty about those metacognitive skills, and will train peer tutors to help students be aware of their own learning processes, Campbell said. The college will also evaluate its own progress using metacognitive strategies.

The grants were the second round awarded under the administration’s “First in the World” grant program, which is part of its campaign to become the country with the biggest share of college graduates in the world. The first round of those grants, awarded last September, totaled $75 million.

In a statement released alongside the grant announcements, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took the opportunity to make a pitch for Congress to expand the First in the World grant program to $200 million in fiscal year 2016, and said that it “makes absolutely no sense” to eliminate it, which is what current budget proposals envision.

Here are the other grant winners announced Monday. Details of each grantee’s plans were expected to be available soon on

Rio Salado College, Tempe, Ariz. ($2,679,005) California State University, Los Angeles, Auxiliary Services ($2,822,776) San José State University Research Foundation, San José, Calif. ($3,000,000) Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, Boulder, Colo. ($2,999,432) Miami-Dade College, Miami, Fla. ($2,888,033) Georgia State University, Atlanta ($8,969,115) Bossier Parish Community College, Bossier City, La. ($1,838,381) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. ($2,891,882) University System of Maryland, Adelphi ($2,998,464) Jackson State University, Jackson, Miss. ($2,988,707) Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh, N.C. ($2,691,156) Bergen Community College, Paramus, N.J. ($2,600,468) Farmingdale State College (Research Foundation State University of New York), Farmingdale ($2,925,507) John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio ($1,293,616)

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.