MOUNT OLIVE-- The University of Mount Olive has been awarded a five-year, $2.76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Title III program.

The grant, the largest single grant in the university's 66-year history, will be used to strengthen academic/student support services, upgrade software systems and hire and train faculty and staff for higher levels of effectiveness.

It will also fund a Learning Commons and a Teaching Excellence Center.

All of these efforts will help to expand the university's capacity to serve low-income students.

The Title III Strengthening Institutions Program will fund the grant.

Mount Olive is one of only two private and 17 higher education institutions nationally, and the only North Carolina institution to receive the grant under the Office of Postsecondary Education's Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP).

The SIP grant program helps eligible institutions of higher education to become self-sufficient and expand their capacity to serve low-income students by providing funds to improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability of eligible institutions.

Chief among the projects will be the creation of a Learning Commons on the first floor of Moye Library. The newly renovated collaborative space will serve as a one-stop location for all student services and support programs.

"This grant approval means a great deal to us," said university President Dr. Philip P. Kerstetter. "We consider student success a priority, so for the Department of Education to support our proposal is a huge vote of confidence.

"The Learning Commons will leverage the intersection of content, technology and services in a physical facility to support student learning and provide resources that encourage both individual and collaborative learning."

Key to the success of the Learning Commons will be enabling faculty, librarians, academic support staff, and other student services personnel to collaborate in the delivery of retention services to students, he said.

"In a single visit, a student might shift between being a solitary library service user to a member of a project team, to a member of a study group," Kerstetter said.

The grant will fund multiple new positions for student success coaches and student mentors who will provide the academic, emotional, social, and real world support students need.

In addition, it will fund the development of learning communities, implement new case management strategies, and a first year, second semester transitional experience, all of which will impact student engagement, retention, success, and satisfaction.

The initial designation of $557,661 will be awarded in the first year of the project, with the total award amount being $2,762,153.

"This Title III grant award and the impact that it will have on the University and our students will be a game changer for UMO,"Kerstetter said. "I applaud the vision and hard work of the UMO staff and faculty who participated in making this happen."

For more information on the U.S. Department of Education's Title III Strengthening Institutions Grants program, visit www2.ed.gov/programs/iduestitle3a/awards.html.

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values.

For more information, visit www.umo.edu.