Promoting Innovation in Higher Education


By Ted Mitchell, Under Secretary of Education


Empowering the higher education sector to innovate to serve students better is a key goal of the Obama administration.  We know that to reach the President’s goal to have the best educated workforce in the world will require new thinking and new models.

We also know that the best ideas almost always come from outside of Washington, so as we design our programs to empower the field, ED is seeking input from a broad array of stakeholders.  On both the 2015 First in the World grants program and the Online Skills Academy, we are actively inviting this input.


First in the World

First in the World (FITW) is a $60 million grant program to enable institutions of higher education to implement innovative activities designed to improve student success, especially for low-income students, while simultaneously running a rigorous evaluation that builds evidence of what works.  We recently published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Priorities (link: We are looking for your input on our proposed priorities, including whether these priorities will enable the most successful competition and encourage innovation in key areas of higher education.  As you’ll see in detail in the Federal Register, we are considering focusing the competition in a number of areas:

  • Improving Success in Developmental Education.
  • Improving Teaching and Learning.
  • Improving Student Support Services.
  • Developing and Using Assessments of Learning.
  • Facilitating Pathways to Credentialing and Transfer.
  • Increasing the Effectiveness of Financial Aid.
  • Implementing Low Cost-High Impact Strategies to Improve Student Outcomes.
  • Improving Postsecondary Student Outcomes at Minority-Serving Institutions.
  • Systems and Consortia Focused on Large-scale Impact.

Please provide your thoughts on whether the specific priorities outlined in the Federal Register effectively encourage innovation that significantly improves degree completion across all sectors of postsecondary education.  From the broad list of priorities in the notice, we will select a subset for the 2015 competition, so please provide your input on the substance of the priorities and those you believe would be most impactful.

Another way that we seek the engagement of innovative thinkers and experts is by expanding our pool of peer reviewers for First in the World and other grant programs.  Peer reviewers play the central role in the selection process for each of these competitions; therefore, having a strong pool of reviewers is critical to their impact.   We hope you will consider serving as a reviewer and hope you will help us spread the word to other potential reviewers.

Visit for more information on the review process and instructions on how to register as a reviewer.


Online Skills Academy

To meet the needs of Americans to access high-quality education and training online, and to encourage the creation and use of free, open, and sharable resources, the administration will launch a competition to create an Online Skills Academy (OSA).  As outlined in Vice President Biden’s report, Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity (link:, the Online Skills Academy will be a $25 million competition from the US Department of Labor to a consortium of institutions to create educational pathways leading to credentials and degrees, each of which would include open-source competencies as articulated by industry and academia; learning resources; high-quality assessment tools; and a technology platform that is scalable and allows for continuous improvement.

The administration has been receiving input from partners across the country in the education and workforce areas.  For example, at a convening about innovation in higher education at the White House last year, ED solicited input on some of the forces shaping the market in which the OSA will be launched; at another, ED convened Chief Learning Officers from small and large companies to learn about their workforce needs.  We have recently held a public listening session and are hoping to hear from the general public about the OSA.  Please submit your comments to the Education and Training Administration at the US Department of Labor by emailing and


Thanks for your input on these initiatives and for your commitment to making higher education more accessible, affordable, and effective for all Americans.