Measuring Quality: HHMI Announces $60 Million Competition for Colleges

Challenging colleges and universities to think creatively about how they teach science, HHMI has invited 215 undergraduate-focused institutions across the country to apply for a total of $60 million in science education grants.

The new round of grants differs from previous HHMI education grants in that they include a focus on collecting better information about which programs succeed in developing the talent and leadership skills of students. Institutions will be asked to identify an overarching educational objective for their program, and schools will be encouraged to create joint programs with other institutions to build on shared science education interests. In addition, colleges and universities that have previously received four or more education grants from HHMI will be asked to share the cost of their ongoing programs to demonstrate their commitment.

“The question is not whether we can produce more scientists and science teachers, but whether we can produce better ones,” says David J. Asai, director of HHMI’s precollege and undergraduate program. “That is our goal with these changes.”

In the past, HHMI’s grants have allowed applicants to submit projects in four categories: student research, faculty development, curriculum and laboratory development, and outreach. Although schools were not expected to put forward a program in every category, Asai notes that the modular design of the grant competition often led schools to “check the boxes” rather than encouraging them to think strategically about a more global objective.

Under the new guidelines, the grant proposal must support the institution’s larger science education goal. Asai hopes this new, focused design will make it easier for grantees to measure and understand which components of a program are successful.

“We want to get away from just counting the numbers of students who do research. We want to find out what schools are doing that is preparing undergraduates to be successful as future scientists, teachers, or members of a scientifically literate public,” he says. “It is a harder question, but it is an important question.”

The grants will range from $800,000 to $1.6 million over four years for individual institutions and up to $4.8 million over four years for programs run jointly by multiple institutions.

“Grants of this size can have a big impact at small schools,” says Sean B. Carroll, HHMI’s vice president for science education. “A small number of faculty working together can quickly make changes that will have an immediate impact on the quality of science education for their students.”

Applications are due October 4, 2011, and grants will be announced in the spring of 2012.