Higher Education Innovation Initiative

What can colleges, universities, and school districts do to dramatically increase bachelor’s degree completion in our state? We turned to recognized innovators for powerful ideas and ways to amplify their impact. In 2015, the state of California awarded $50 million to recognize 14 higher education institutions or partnerships that changed policies, practices, or systems to significantly improve student success. The awards sparked interest and drew attention to exciting collaborations among players who are advancing college access and completion.

Through the Higher Education Innovation Initiative, we provide a platform for these award-winning institutions to further strengthen and scale their productive approaches, and support research, documentation, and communications to share lessons with a larger field and shift outcomes for more students in California. This initiative advances our focus on Successful Transitions and Regional Partnerships. (Read more about these strategy elements.)

Initiative Intent

The goal of the Higher Education Innovation Initiative is to increase effective intersegmental collaboration and student success. Through Foundation support, including the platform of an Innovation Leadership Network, participating institutions seek to:

Generate and share knowledge about successful practices and common barriers. This knowledge will inform the work of network members, College Futures Foundation investments, and the broader K-12 and postsecondary education community.

Leverage best practices by defining, testing, scaling, and replicating projects and strategies that increase institutional collaboration and student success. This includes the organizational structures and leadership skills required to elevate best practices.

Create sustainable solutions by transitioning from short-term experimental programs to more enduring transformation at the institutional, intersegmental, and multisector levels.

Our Focus

We pursue this intent by supporting participating institutions and partnerships with three elements:

Peer learning through sharing and discussion opportunities with other innovation award recipients doing related work and facing similar challenges.

Strategic communications, including case studies and other projects that have a special focus on sharing practical information on lessons learned and ways to replicate and scale successes.

Technical assistance tailored to unique institutional needs, such as using data to set goals and drive change, and developing more formal intersegmental structures and processes (between different segments of our educational system).

Postsecondary Partners

Members of the Innovation Leadership Network—which is a key part of this initiative—are recipients of the State of California’s Awards for Innovation in Higher Education who signaled interest and agreed to participate in the network.

Background on Governor’s Awards for Innovation in Higher Education

The intention of Governor Brown’s Awards for Innovation in Higher Education program was to recognize California Community Colleges, California State University (CSU) campuses, and University of California (UC) campuses that change existing policies, practices, or systems to achieve the following priorities:

  • Significantly increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded.
  • Allow students to complete bachelor’s degrees within four years after beginning higher education.
  • Ease transfer through the state’s education system by better recognizing learning that occurs across the state’s education segments and elsewhere.

The California Community Colleges, CSU campuses, and UC campuses were invited to submit applications, individually or in groups, for an award. The 2014 appropriation of $50 million in funds was awarded in 2015. Information about all of the applicants, including the 14 award winners, may be found on the Awards for Innovation in Higher Education page of the California Department of Finance website.