An Inland Empire collaborative has been selected to receive a $5 million Governor’s Award for Innovation in Higher Education, the maximum amount possible. The Federation for a Competitive Economy (FACE), whose plan went up against 57 other proposals from around the state, hopes to use the grant to improve college graduation rates in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

Established at UCR in 2009, FACE is an initiative that aims to improve the college readiness of high school graduates and increase the number of college degree holders in the Inland Empire, one of the most populous — and poverty-stricken — regions in the state. Despite being home to over 4.3 million people, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have some of the lowest college graduation rates in California, with only 21 percent and 19 percent of their respective residents holding bachelor’s degrees.

FACE is comprised of partnerships between UCR, CSU San Bernardino (CSUSB), the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and nearby educational institutions and businesses, including Bank of America and Redlands Community Hospital.

Improving math skills is an integral part of what FACE is working toward, since lack of math preparedness has historically been a significant roadblock to college success. “Many high school students aren’t ready to handle the college math expected of them, and you can see it in how many students drop out of STEM majors after their freshman year,” Pamela Clute, executive director of UCR’s ALPHA Center and education and mathematics lecturer, told UCR Today.

The team hopes to meet several goals by 2020, including decreasing the number of college freshmen who require remedial courses, particularly in math, by 20 percent; increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees earned in the Inland Empire by 15 percent; creating more internship opportunities; and increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees earned within six years by 10 percent.

The proposal was submitted by the team at CSUSB in January, led by CSUSB President Tomas Morales and Director of Research of Sponsored Programs Rachel Weiss in partnership with UCR. A total of $50 million was awarded to applicants, with 14 out of 58 receiving between $2.5 million and $5 million in funding.

“What’s truly innovative and important about this grant is that it is a unique collaboration of all sectors of public higher education along with the private sector,” Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Paul D’Anieri told UCR Today.