P lant seeds of instructional innovation. Scatter them broadly and evenly.  When the seeds mature, harvest the yield and propagate additional instructional innovations. These steps form the basic strategy underlying NSF's Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement programG. The evaluation examined data from several sources to assess the effectiveness of this strategy, as it is put into action through the ILI program. The evaluation team analyzed

A. Planting the Seeds:  
The Program's Scope  
and Coverage
The evaluation looked first at the ILI program's effectiveness in reaching its target audiences of institutions, fields, students, and faculty members7. Proposal and award data for the years 1985-94, residing in NSF's proposal and award database, were examined.

7The information presented in this section is summarized from a more detailed analysis that has previously been published(A Short-term Impact Study of the National Science Foundation's Instrumentation and Laboratory Improvement Program. National Science Foundation, NSF 97-6).

Summary of Findings on Scope
and Coverage

The ILI program has generated broad interest and participation in the target community. Since 1987, the program has consistently received about 2,000 proposals and has made around 550 awards annually (Figure 1). Average award amounts during this period have fluctuated narrowly in the $34,000 to $38,000 range. Although the total number of awards made in any given year is not large relative to the proposal requests, ILI projects tend to remain in operation for many years, even after funding ceases,8 and new projects are continually added to those already in place. Over time, the cumulative number of awards made by the program has grown, almost linearly, to a total by 1994 of 4,700 awards.

Figure 1. Number of ILI awards, by program year: 1985-94

SOURCE: ILI program propsal and award database.

ILI reaches a majority of four-year and doctorate-granting colleges and universities. Nearly all doctorate-granting universities with undergraduate SMET programs submitted proposals to ILI during the first decade of the program, and most (87 percent) received one or more awards. Most other four-year colleges and universities with undergraduate SMET programs also submitted proposals to the program (75 percent), and a majority (55 percent) received one or more awards.

8 A more detailed discussion of the duration of ILI projects is presented in section B.

Levels of participation among two-year institutions have been lower. Two-year institutions were not eligible for the program during its first three years. Since they became eligible, less than half of the two-year colleges that award associate degrees in SMET fields have submitted one or more proposals to ILI. Although the proposal funding rate for two-year institutions (27 percent) has been at least as high as that for four-year institutions (26 percent), only one in five received at least one award by 1994 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. ILI coverage of institutions,
by highest degree offered in science,
mathematics, engineering, and technology: 1985-94

*Base = Four-year colleges and institutions that awarded baccalaureate, master's and doctorate degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, or technology fields in 1993, and two-year colleges that awarded associate degrees in these fields in 1993.

SOURCE: ILI program proposal and award database.

The ILI program has distributed awards and award amounts across fields in proportion to the number of proposals received. The most active fields are engineering/technology, chemistry, the biological sciences, and physics. The least active are the social sciences, psychology, and "general sciences."

Participating institutions serve large numbers of students receiving SMET degrees in SMET fields. Eighty-nine percent of students who received baccalaureate degrees in SMET fields in 1993 received their degrees from an institution that has won at least one ILI award. And well over half (61 percent) of all 1993 recipients of baccalaureate degrees in SMET fields received their degrees from institutions that have won four or more ILI awards. In contrast only 29 percent of associate degree recipients in SMET fields study at institutions that have won at least one ILI award.9

ILI proposals and awards have been widely dispersed across individuals during the program's first decade. The roughly 18,000 proposals that were submitted to ILI during 1985-94 were submitted by nearly 12,000 different principal investigators. Awards have been widely distributed: 4,700 awards through 1994 were made to 4,300 different PIs. Only 9 percent of ILI grantees have won more than one award.10

The percentage of awards received by women or PIs from groups that have traditionally been underserved in SMET fields remains low (Table 1), but has been increasing. Further, the percentage of awards to members of these groups is consistent with their percentage in the SMET college faculty pool from which ILI PIs are drawn.11

9More detailed information about the characteristics of students who were impacted by the ILI awards is presented in section B of this chapter.
10Additional information on multiple awards in section B.
11Women, Minorities, and People with disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1996. National Science Foundation(NSF 96-311), p.34.

Table 1. Representation of women and minorities
among principal investigators,
by field and institution type: 1985-94 grants
Field and 
institution type
Percent female principal investigators
Percent minority principal investigators
TOTAL  ............................ 16  3 
Biological sciences.............. 27  4 
Psychology ........................ 27  3 
Mathematics  ..................... 21  5 
Chemistry  ......................... 19  2 
Social sciences  .................. 19  3 
Interdisciplinary  ................. 17  3 
Environmental sciences  ...... 14  4 
Computer sciences  ............ 13  2 
Physics  ............................. 8  4 
Engineering/technology ....... 7  4 
Institution type 
Associate  .......................... 22  3 
Baccalaureate  .................... 19  3 
Master's  ............................ 15  4 
Doctorate  ......................... 13  3 
SOURCE: ILI program proposal and award database.
Participation by consortia has been low. In each year of the program the ILI program announcement has made a special point of encouraging proposals for consortia or centers that would help make modern laboratory equipment more widely accessible to undergraduate students in a particular field or geographical area through equipment-sharing arrangements among multiple institutions. So far interest in this component has been low. Of the nearly 18,000 proposals the Foundation has received in the ILI program, only 54 have involved proposed consortia. Of these, only 19 were funded, most at low budget levels; only two had awards over $50,000.

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