Indiana State University Newsroom

‘First in the World' grant to boost student success

September 30, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a new program designed to make America once again first in the world for the number of college graduates, and Indiana State University is among the program's first partners.

The "First in the World" grant program is designed to help develop innovative methods to improve student success, make college more affordable and identify effective practices.

"Each grantee demonstrated a high-quality, creative and sound approach to expand college access and improve student outcomes, said Arne Duncan, education secretary. "We are confident these projects will have a positive impact on increasing access and completion and help us reach President Obama's 2020 goal, to once again have the highest share of college graduates in the world."

Indiana State is one of 24 first-round grant recipients that were selected from 500 applications. The university will use a four-year, $1.6 million grant for a project called "Accelerating College Completion through Academic Mindset."

The project builds on research by the Stanford University-based College Transition Consortium that found that when students truly believe they can be successful, a large portion are successful, said Josh Powers, associate vice president for student success at Indiana State. The project also extends that research by investigating the potential boosting effect of professional development for faculty on how to integrate growth mindset elements into their instruction.

"It's about interventions that help students believe they can do it," Powers said. "It involves them having a chance to reflect on the fact that the brain can grow like a muscle, and that students before them were able to perform well in difficult subjects," Powers said. "So many students have this belief, particularly in math, that you either get it or you don't get it; these are interventions designed to break through that barrier."

Such interventions have especially been proven to help low-income, minority and first-generation students, groups that are represented in large numbers at Indiana State, Powers noted.Indiana State faculty will work with Mary Murphy, principal investigator with the College Transition Consortium and an assistant professor of psychology and brain sciences at Indiana University. Murphy will also be a keynote speaker at Indiana State's second annual Student Success Conference, scheduled for Oct. 16.

The academic mindset project will help address college affordability by aiding students in completing a bachelor's degree in four years, Powers noted. The primary focus is on math.

"As with other institutions across the country, math is often a barrier for students toward degree completion at Indiana State. In focusing on student success, that is a natural place to look," said Liz Brown, professor and chair of Indiana State's math and computer science department.

"In the U.S. there is an idea, in many cases a false idea, that there are people who are good at math and people who aren't good at math - a math gene, if you will," Brown said. "In other parts of the world, they realize that mathematics is difficult but with hard work and persistence you can do it."

Research continues to show the value of a college degree. A report earlier this year from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that college graduates earn $830,000 more during their lifetime than people with only a high school diploma.

"Throughout our nearly 150-year history, Indiana State has been a place where hardworking first generation, low-income and minority students have been successful. This ‘First in the World' grant will allow us to help even more students realize their full potential," said Dan Bradley, Indiana State's president. "By helping our students succeed, we will help Indiana and the nation succeed as well."

Photo: - Math instructor Derrick Bowman teaches a Math 131 class at Indiana State University Sept. 30, 2014. A $1.6 million U.S. Department of Education grant will enable the university to help students in math classes as a means of helping them complete their degrees on time.  (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Photo:$2c%202014$20Math%201644-L.jpg - Heiidi Kasper, a freshman pre-veterinary student from Coal City, works in the MathSpace lab at Indiana State University Sept. 30, 2014. (ISU/Rachel Keyes)

Contact: Josh Powers, associate vice president for student success, Indiana State University, 812-237-8378 or; Liz Brown, professor and chair, department of mathematics and computer science, Indiana State University, 812-237-2119 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or