Federal grants are helping schools revamp their online capabilitiesMany grants from the federal government and philanthropic foundations are being offered to schools to help design online programs for students. Universities have used the funding to upgrade technology, offer new online degree programs and hire more faculty to teach web-based courses to help institutions graduate more students.

Earlier this month, the Gates Foundation introduced the Next Generation Learning Challenge, which will provide $20 million worth of grants to educators and entrepreneurs to develop more technological learning tools for higher education. Experts say that many colleges and universities currently do not have a way to measure whether students are learning online or not. Furthermore, many schools already have tools for students to use, but analysts suggest that they are costly to develop.

The grants aim to increase the use of hybrid learning, which combines online instruction and face-to-face interaction through the use of digital games, simulations as well as and social media. Furthermore, the grant will help provide schools with an “open courseware” tool for math, science and English to test and monitor students progress in real-time.

The Gates Foundation has also partnered with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to provide grants ranging between $250,000 and $750,000 to give colleges better information technology options.

Federal money helps community college revamp online classes

Some schools are “virtualizing” their campuses so students can use programs at home that were previously only available through on-campus computers. A recent $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education has allowed the Owensboro Community and Technical College (OCTC) to construct a “cyber supercenter,” reports iStockAnalyst.com.

The Title III grant will run through 2015 and college officials told the news source that the grants are meant to increase access to higher education, promote student success and retention as well as assist faculty development. Furthermore, funding will be funneled directly into revitalizing and expanding online classes and services for students. School officials said that some of the money will focus on helping first-year students succeed in online classes.

College officials told the news source that because this program is being grant-funded instead of college-funded, the cost will not affect students.

"If you look across higher education, it is very easy to see that there is a strong move afoot with the Generation X and millennial students to move toward online education," Jim Klauber, OCTC president told the news source. "That is what our students are clamoring for."

School wins two grants to train professionals who will be in national demand

Federal funds have also been given to schools that train professionals in fields that are experiencing shortages, such as nursing and other healthcare positions. The University of Arizona (UA) won two federal grants to start two public health training centers that will allow for free job training for students at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health, reports the Arizona Daily Star.

Furthermore, the Arizona Public Health Training Center will receive technological upgrades as a part of a $3.2 million grant that was created through a new federal healthcare law. Free online or in-person training will be provided to public health workers who will help underserved people. Graduate students will receive stipends and resources to conduct projects with county health departments.

"A lot of people in the public health workforce were not originally trained to do public health, and many people in public health in Arizona may not have a college degree.” Douglas Taren, associate dean at the school, told the news source. “They have learned a lot on the job, but this is a way to provide formal training."

The Mountain West Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center will be upgraded to allow students to get free online training as part of a $4.7 million national security initiative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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