Highlights: Review of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) Comprehensive Program
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This report reviews the extent to which the FIPSE Comprehensive Program appears to be meeting its key objectives and is the first outside review of the program in over two decades. The FIPSE Program is administered by the Office of Postsecondary Education and its purpose is to, "support innovative reform projects that hold promise as models for the resolution of important issues and problems in postsecondary education." The report is descriptive in nature and makes no attempt to evaluate the impact of the FIPSE Comprehensive Program or its funded projects.

Study Design

The report is based on a sample of 60 randomly selected projects funded from 1996 through 1998. Information was obtained mainly from project reports and documentation maintained by the FIPSE office, supplemented, if necessary, by discussions with project staff members, staff members at institutions replicating FIPSE projects, and FIPSE staff. In addition, 16 of the 60 projects were selected for a more intensive review consisting of an assessment by individuals with expertise specific to the individual project.

Key Study Findings

To What Extent Did the Funded Projects Fit Within FIPSE's Operating Principles?

The projects reviewed successfully reflected FIPSE's mission as operationalized through five principles FIPSE established to guide funding decisions. Specifically the funded projects focused on widely felt issues and problems in postsecondary education, were responsive to local initiatives, were comprehensive with respect to the variety of problems addressed and the range of institutions and learners served, were action-oriented, and were innovative.

To What Extent Have FIPSE Projects Been Institutionalized?

Almost all of the projects reviewed continued in some form after FIPSE funding ceased—fewer than 10 percent of the projects no longer existed as of 2003. About two-thirds of the projects maintained or increased their scope while one-fifth continued with some reduction in scope. Key factors in successful institutionalization were the ability to obtain sufficient funding from either internal or external sources and the support of the relevant administration.

To What Extent Have FIPSE Projects Disseminated Information?

Almost all projects engaged in some form of dissemination activity—most frequently presentations but Web sites and published articles were also common. In addition, there was a great deal of informal, colleague-to-colleague dissemination.

To What Extent Have FIPSE Projects Been Replicated Elsewhere?

More than one-half of the grantees reviewed had other institutions or organizations that replicated all or part of their projects. Replicating institutions usually received support from the original project, ranging from e-mail exchanges to regular visits between institutions. While one-third of the projects reviewed received money from FIPSE specifically for replication, the fact that replication occurred in projects not receiving additional FIPSE funds for replication or after FIPSE funding ceased suggests that replication activities are wide-spread throughout all FIPSE projects.

To What Extent Have FIPSE Projects Produced Convincing Evidence of Effectiveness?

Incomplete evaluation reports were provided by many of the 1996, 1997, and 1998 projects reviewed for this report. When provided, evaluations tended to be based mostly on self-reported data from surveys and focus groups, although there were examples of projects also examining student outcomes such as retention and course grades, and in a few cases, projects used random assignment. While intensive evaluations cannot be expected given the relatively small size of most FIPSE grants, the overall lack of high quality evaluation data was of concern. In recent years the FIPSE office has placed an emphasis on projects conducting and reporting more comprehensive and rigorous evaluation data.

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Last Modified: 09/24/2004