UA receives grant to lead transformational change in public higher ed


Finance class

As public research universities seek to keep pace with an evolving student body, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today announced that The University of Akron is one of seven public urban research universities that have been selected as a participant in a one-year, innovative project that seeks to transform the way higher education is delivered. The University of Akron will receive $225,000 as part of the Transformational Planning Grant (TPG) project to research, develop and test new, scalable university business models that can increase access, improve success rates and find greater cost efficiencies. 

APLU, in coordination with the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), is managing the grant and the cohort of seven urban institutions on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the initiative. APLU intends to use its national network to work to scale the most promising findings and practices of The University of Akron and the six other grantees to help its more than 200 public university members across the country better meet the needs of their evolving student populations.  

Pilot courses with flexible access

“The University of Akron is proposing a transformational plan to unbundle higher education by leveraging the expertise of our full time faculty and harnessing the power of today’s technology to deliver content and assess learning with and without traditional boundaries,” said Mike Sherman, Provost at The University of Akron. “Our initial approach will involve the use of specific pilot courses to demonstrate a modular, technology-based approach to learning that provides flexible access/egress points and allows students to capitalize on their skills and knowledge obtained via other means. Assessment of the learning in these courses via traditional and transformational delivery mechanisms will be compared and connected to the financial aspects of course delivery.”

“Public research universities are being asked to educate more students and effectively prepare them for the workforce and society at the same time they continue to face reduced state and local funding,” APLU President Peter McPherson said. “The University of Akron is well-positioned to identify effective ways forward that can help transform the delivery of public higher education as we know it. We are eager to assist and foster The University of Akron’s development of what will certainly be a promising approach to improving quality and success in the current environment for public research universities. And we are equally excited about the potential to scale up their new ideas for public institutions across the country.”  

The University of Akron and the six other participating universities — Florida International University, Fresno State, Georgia State University, Portland State University, Temple University and the University of Illinois at Chicago are all members of APLU and USU. Urban research universities were chosen to comprise the entire cohort since they already serve a significant percentage of nontraditional, disadvantaged students.

Exploring transformational change

“The TPG project is an exciting realization of the unique role of urban serving universities,” USU/APLU Office of Urban Initiatives Vice President Shari Garmise said. “Harnessing the collective vision to increase access, deliver equity, improve urban life and strengthen the workforce presents a great opportunity to explore transformational change. We’re very excited about the potential advancements University of Akron and the six other institutions will find over the course of the grant that could help reshape the way public higher education is delivered.”

APLU and USU conducted a rigorous application and review process for urban universities interested in participating in the TPG project. The seven institutions chosen demonstrated evidence of being early adopters, measured by the degree to which they have already begun to convene stakeholders and implement system-level change. The seven sites will be supported by APLU and USU networks, which will capture and promote promising practices and broker support for the sites if they need additional resources or expertise.

Representatives from The University of Akron and each of the six other institutions will travel to Washington, D.C., for a launch meeting at the end of July and institutions will begin the planning phase on August 1.

APLU is a research, policy and advocacy organization representing 234 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and affiliated organizations.  Founded in 1887, APLU is North America's oldest higher education association with member institutions in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, Canada, and Mexico. Annually, APLU member campuses enroll 4.7 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.1 million degrees, employ 1.3 million faculty and staff, and conduct $41 billion in university-based research.

USU is a president-led network of public, urban-based research universities dedicated to improving urban health and reducing health disparities, strengthening urban economies, and developing a capable, diverse workforce for the 21st century. USU is led by a 15 member board composed of university presidents and chancellors that set policy for the organization. The board’ agenda focuses on three crucial areas or strands (Workforce, Health, and Strengthening Communities), each overseen by member presidents or chancellors. USU partners with APLU to oversee a joint Office of Urban Initiatives.

Media contact: Eileen Korey, 330-972-8589 or