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Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education - Welcome and Overview of FIPSE Programs and Web Resources

Welcome to the Web site for the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), a unit within the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education.

FIPSE is a unit of the Higher Education Programs within the Office of Postsecondary Education, U.S. Department of Education. FIPSE's mandate is to "improve postsecondary educational opportunities" across a broad range of concerns. Through its various grant competitions, FIPSE seeks to support the implementation of innovative educational reform ideas, to evaluate how well they work, and to share the findings with the larger education community.

Applicants for FIPSE competitions include a wide variety of nonprofit agencies and institutions offering education after high school, such as colleges and universities (public and private, two- and four-year, undergraduate and graduate), technical and business schools, testing agencies, professional associations, employers and unions, state and local education agencies, student organizations, cultural institutions, and community groups. FIPSE supports new as well as established organizations, but it cannot award grants to unaffiliated individuals or for-profits. Like all federal agencies, FIPSE’s ability to run competitions each year is determined by congressional appropriations and program priorities that are set by Congress or the Department of Education.

FIPSE conducts a number of competitive grant competitions each year. Each competition is announced in the Federal Register and typically, on the same day, the guidelines and application materials are separately made available online. The entire application process and subsequent management of grants is electronic. For a detailed explanation of each competition, it is important to read the respective grant application package carefully.

The next sections describe categories of competitive discretionary grant programs offered by FIPSE. They are selective and use a peer review process to determine funding. In each of its competitive discretionary grant programs FIPSE provides "seed grants" serving as incentives for improvement and continuation. FIPSE competitive grant programs share a number of common characteristics:

  1. Projects focus on widely felt issues and challenges in postsecondary education, rather than on special interest groups or prescribed solutions.
  2. Projects are responsive to local initiatives, leaving to the applicants the tasks of identifying specific local problems and proposing solutions that have the potential for national influence.
  3. Projects are comprehensive with respect to the variety of problems addressed and the range of institutions and learners served.
  4. Projects are action-oriented and learner-centered, involving direct implementation of new ideas or approaches rather than basic research.
  5. FIPSE’s project participants are encouraged to take risks to support new and unproven ideas as well as improvements to proven ideas.

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FIPSE's Flagship Program – The Comprehensive Program

The Comprehensive Program is FIPSE's flagship program and largest competitive grant competition. It supports innovative, replicable education improvement projects that respond to a wide range of issues of national and global significance. These projects propose significant reforms and improvements in U.S. postsecondary education and have the potential to serve as national models for reform.

In the past FIPSE has announced "invitational" priorities for the Comprehensive Program. Invitational priorities reflect a desire on the part of the U.S. Department of Education to encourage applications in specific areas. However, applications that address specific invitational priorities do not receive a competitive advantage for funding. FIPSE may also list "competitive" priorities for the Comprehensive Program. When competitive priorities are announced, those applicants who choose to address competitive priorities will be awarded bonus points on their applications. FIPSE welcomes applications that do not address either invitational or competitive priorities.

Special Focus Competitions

Another type of competitive grant competition that FIPSE holds relates to specific initiatives or special foci mandated by Congress or the Department of Education. The foci of these competitions vary each year and often reflect a new emphasis on such things as science education, community colleges, educational materials, or disaster relief. How often such programs are offered depends on congressional appropriations. Some may be offered only once. For a list of current and recent special focus competitions, see FIPSE's Home page.

The Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program

A third type of grant competition focuses on the Underground Railroad. This program provides grants to support research, display, interpretation, and collection of artifacts related to the history of the Underground Railroad, and to lessons drawn from the history of the Underground Railroad. Non-profit agencies, institutions, and organizations are eligible to apply to this program. As required by the URR Authorizing Legislation, all applicants must provide 4:1 cost-sharing, must undertake an annual financial audit of the entire applicant organization, and must provide other specific research and educational services.

International Programs

Until October of 2010 FIPSE ran four international consortia programs that are co-funded with foreign government partners. The Program for North American Mobility in Higher Education, the U.S.-Brazil Consortia Program, the European Union-United States Atlantis Program, and the U.S.-Russia Program are now administered by the International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE) Service at the U.S. Department of Education. In its Comprehensive Program, discussed above, FIPSE continues to welcome proposals for projects which seek novel strategies for establishing an international dimension of issues related to all aspects of postsecondary education, including foreign language acquisition, the social sciences, health sciences, and information technology.

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Competitive Grant Review Process and the Role of Field Readers

FIPSE's competitive grant review process changed substantially in 2007. Today FIPSE grants are reviewed by field readers in a one-stage process. Each application is typically assigned to three readers. FIPSE staff strive to assign proposals to readers with both topic and area expertise as well as general knowledge of the area covered. This means that it is extremely important for applicants to take care in writing accurate project abstracts. It is also very important for applicants to read grant application instructions, which indicate how many points applicants may earn by addressing specified selection criteria. Reviewers score applications with reference to the total points allotted to each of several criteria. The mean of the scores awarded by three reviewers is used to rank grant applications.

Congressionally-directed Grants

Another category of grants that FIPSE manages are Congressionally-directed Grants, commonly known as "earmarks." FIPSE functions as the processing and monitoring unit for such awards for the Office of Postsecondary Education. Congressional earmarks are funds provided by Congress for projects or programs and the congressional direction is included in the bill or report language. These are non-competitive discretionary grants and do not use peer review. FIPSE is required to ensure that recipients of earmark funds use them in accordance with congressional intent and applicable laws and regulations.

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Project Evaluation and Dissemination of Results

Evaluation and dissemination of FIPSE projects are major priorities. FIPSE believes that thoughtful and appropriate evaluation of projects is crucial if FIPSE is to be able to assist the postsecondary educational community by defining the cutting edge of educational innovation. Competitive projects focus on finding out what works, sharing valuable information, and encouraging the adoption of proven programs.

Although most members of the postsecondary educational community may never receive a FIPSE grant, they are nonetheless an important constituency of the Department of Education. Our goal over the next few years is to provide a continuous flow of information about the results of the projects that we fund. You can find some of our initial postings on the pages for FIPSE Grants in Action and the FIPSE Update – our quarterly newsletter.

We have also increased our commitment to assisting grantees in designing program evaluations that go beyond a basic summary of activities and a satisfaction survey. FIPSE's staff evaluator reviews evaluation plans and final reports and provides written feedback to grantees. We do believe that most project directors sincerely wish to know if their ideas really work, but many need some additional guidance with assessment. We are working with project directors to more clearly define the expectations for their projects’ external evaluators. For more information about evaluation requirements and resources, please see FIPSE Evaluation Resources.

Additional Resources

Many other resources are available at the bottom of the FIPSE Home page. Highlights include the following:

  • Competition Information - Materials for applying for FIPSE grants;
  • FIPSE Database - Online, searchable database of descriptions of FIPSE-funded projects from 1994 to the present;
  • FIPSE Google Maps - This series of maps highlights different types of projects that your colleagues have recently worked on, or are currently working on, with funds from FIPSE competitive grants. Maps are linked to project abstracts, project director contact information, and Web sites offering educational resources;
  • FIPSE Grants in Action – Information about recent achievements of FIPSE grantees;
  • FIPSE Update – The quarterly FIPSE Newsletter highlighting current and past projects which have important findings or offer valuable resources to the postsecondary education community.

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Last Modified: 12/01/2010