Washington, DC - To spur innovation in higher education aimed at helping more students access and complete a college degree or credential, the U.S. Department of Education announced today the availability of $75 million in the First in the World (FITW) program.

Click here for the Federal Register notice. The grants will fund the development and testing of innovative approaches and strategies at colleges and universities that improve college attainment and make higher education more affordable for students and families.

At a time when college has never been more important, costs have never been higher. According to the College Board, average tuition and fees at public four-year institutions in 2013-14 are more than three times higher than they were in 1983-84, after adjusting for inflation. That’s why last August President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to combat rising college costs and make college more affordable. Encouraging innovation is a central tenet of that plan, and through FITW, the administration will catalyze the work of institutions of higher education that are demonstrating how to develop and evaluate new approaches that can expand college access and improve student learning while reducing costs.

“President Obama and I believe that many colleges are doing innovative work and testing creative ideas to help their students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. “The President is asking for the most innovative thinking that the field has to offer to spark some real creativity and innovation across higher education in order to achieve better outcomes for our students.”

FITW draws on the approach of the Department’s Investment in Education Fund (i3), in which higher levels of evidence of success divide the competition into several tiers of funding. In the 2014 FITW competition, grants will be awarded in only one tier (Development grants), but additional evidence will be incentivized through the competition. Evaluation will also be a key component of the program. Successful applicants must demonstrate not only an innovative project design, but outline a rigorous plan for how the project will be evaluated to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The FITW competition aims to increase postsecondary access, affordability and completion for underrepresented, underprepared or low-income students at institutions across the country. Colleges and universities are invited to submit proposals addressing key priorities around boosting enrollment and attainment for those students, or minimizing gaps between these students and their peers; improving transfer rates between community college and four-year institutions; increasing enrollment and completion rates among underrepresented, underprepared or low-income students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs; reducing time to completion; and increasing college affordability.

FITW is designed to spur a diverse array of innovative ideas and approaches in order to dramatically improve student learning and outcomes. Of the $75 million made available in FY2014, the competition contains a set-aside of up to $20 million for institutions that designate as minority-serving institutions.

Applications will be made available on May 16 and applications are due by June 30. All grants will be awarded by September. The Department will post further information, including information about webinars and other technical assistance, on the FIPSE Web page.