On February 23, 2015, the United States Department of Education published proposed priorities, requirements, selection criteria, and definitions for the First in the World (FITW) Program in the Federal Register. The FITW is a competitive grant program designed to catalyze innovations that lead to improved educational outcomes and more affordable postsecondary education. For fiscal year (FY) 2015, the Department is focusing the FITW program on projects that improve persistence, academic progress, time to degree, or completion for high-need students. The Department defined high-need students as adult learners, working students, part-time students, students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, first-generation students, and students who are English learners.
To address the focus of the FY 2015 program on high-need students, the Department released nine proposed priorities for project applicants and asked for brief public comments as to whether these proposed priorities sufficiently address the greatest challenges and barriers to postsecondary success as well as whether the subparts for each proposed priority adequately capture the most promising aspects of each priority’s policy topic. In response to the proposed priorities and the request for feedback prior to the release of final rules for the FY 2015 FITW Grant Application, NASPA has offered the following feedback in a letter submitted to the Department on March 24, 2015. The nine proposed priorities and NASPA’s comments are provided below:
Priority 1: Improving Success in Developmental Education
Priority 1 Comment: Prioritize projects that specifically blend academic with non-academic support systems to track the impact of each on the experiences of low-income learners in pursuit of developmental education.
Priority 2: Improving Teaching and Learning
Priority 2 Comment: Given the mobility of many non-traditional learners, prioritize system/Consortia-level projects to track proficiency development and/or value-added gains on defined competencies associated with a general education curriculum among those who transfer.
Priority 3: Improving Student Support Services
Priority 3 Comment: Prioritize projects that utilize different communication modalities and extended in-person service hours, including telephone consulting or services provided to students in targeted, satellite locations staffed by institutional personnel and/or faculty.
Priority 4: Developing and Using Assessments of Learning
Priority 4 Comment: Add under Priority 4(b) - Assessments that measure learning associated with the co-curriculum to include civic learning and engagement, critical thinking, career development, and/or ethical reasoning. Further, prioritize projects that seek to align and assess the efficacy of institutional programs and services that are designed to promote this learning. Please provide clarification under 4(b)(v) as to what is meant by open-source assessments.
Priority 5: Facilitating Pathways to Credentialing and Transfer
Priority 5 Comment: Please specify under 5(b)(II) the validation and transfer of credentialing or badging frameworks.
Priority 6: Increasing the Effectiveness of Financial Aid
Priority 6 Comment: Prioritize projects that request the use of restricted access financial aid data to study financial aid as a factor in access, persistence, and completion equity in postsecondary education. Further, prioritize projects that assess the effectiveness of flexible need-based aid programs to support access, persistence, and attainment of non-traditional student populations.
Priority 7: Implementing Low-Cost-High Impact Strategies to Improve Student Outcomes
Priority 7 Comment: Prioritize projects that track whether access to technology is an impeding factor in technology as a low cost-high impact tool.
Priority 8: Improving Postsecondary Student Outcomes at Minority-Serving Institutions
Priority 8 Comment: Prioritize projects that seek to define, operationalize, and measure success outcomes of high-need student subpopulations.
Priority 9: Systems and Consortia Focused on Large-Scale Impact
Priority 9 Comment: Prioritize projects that track matriculation and transfer patterns of students within and between institutions within a system or consortia.
The purpose of NASPA's comments are to ensure that the First in the World Program is inclusive of projects that lead to innovative programs, resources, services, and policies to address the challenges and barriers of today's high-need students. Further, our comments are intended to ensure that the role and impact of student affairs professionals are reflected in these innovations. And as leaders in practice, research, and policy look to understand and target effective strategies to improve access, persistence, and attainment among high-need students, understanding the role and contributions of student affairs professionals will be critical.