First Opportunity Partners Grant Program

​The mission of the First Opportunity Partners (FOP) grant program is to provide matching grants to CIC State Fund Members in support of new, collaborative, and innovative approaches to increasing college access and success of first-generation, low-income, minority, and new American students. Grants must be matched (1:1 minimum) by third parties.

The grant program has been funded by the CIC-FIHE Endowment and by direct grants from the UPS Foundation.



​Since the inception of the program, $1,012,470 has been distributed to fund 29 grant programs. Reported matching funds total $1,289,448, which brings the total economic impact of these grant programs to $2,301,918. Additionally, ongoing local support for projects seeded by this program far exceeds the total reported match.

As part of the FOP Venture Fund, beginning in 2008, the Walmart First Opportunity Partner Access and Success program funded nine innovative programs to enhance educational opportunities for at-risk, high-need students. (Read More


​Only CIC State Fund Members are eligible to apply for First Opportunity Partners funding. If you work for a private college or university, please contact the State Fund Member in your state.

 Recently Awarded Grants

Associated Colleges of Illinois (ACI) – Peer Mentoring Program ($25,000)
ACI's Peer Mentoring Program seeks to improve the number of Illinois’ minority, low-income, and/or first-generation students who persist in college by helping them navigate the critical first year and connecting them to campus faculty, staff, and services likely to foster college success. Peer mentoring serves at-risk students at seven participating ACI colleges who are matched with juniors or seniors from similar backgrounds. Mentors are selected for their capacity to model desired elements of student success, such as academic success, campus connections, and character, and they are trained and supervised throughout the year. Peer Mentors launch Mentee relationships in August, establishing intentional, consistent communication patterns through one-on-one and group meetings, email, text, and social media, ongoing throughout the academic year.

Independent College Fund of Maryland (I-Fund) – Urban Pipeline Initiative ($25,000)
Using the highly successful Urban Scholars Program, the Independent College Fund of Maryland has begun “construction” of an Urban Pipeline in the greater Baltimore area. Partnering with The Urban Alliance, the I-Fund has targeted the summer after high school as the most critical time frame for at-risk, college-bound students to receive focused attention, training, and tutoring to prepare for the first year of college. The Urban Alliance and the I-Fund’s Urban Scholars Program will dovetail existing life-skill workshops into a robust and expansive Summer Bridge Program, matching more than nine Baltimore inner city high schools with the I-Fund's 10 member colleges and universities.

Michigan Colleges Foundation (MCF) – Career Leaders Initiative ($25,000)
MCF will launch a new program targeting underserved Detroit students. The initiative is designed to increase access to MCF institutions, as well as enable both academic and career success. With major donor support, the Career Leaders Initiative will allow cohorts of 12-13 students to participate in structured professional skills modules and complete summer internships that connect classroom experiences to real world employment. At the same time, it will provide students with the financial resources to attend colleges offering smaller, personalized educational settings. The program will level the affordability playing field with public universities and integrate career preparation as part of the educational experience. This highly structured program design will address a growing literature on the employability skills of college graduates.

North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) – Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative ($25,000)
This program offers the potential to significantly impact women’s job readiness, and is of particular importance as many female students who qualify as ethnic minorities or who qualify for need-based financial aid often do not have post-graduation support systems in place should they have difficulty garnering employment. The Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative will provide ten member colleges and universities with funding to implement a program designed to increase persistence, retention, and/or graduation rates of women students on campuses through efforts to mentor, coach, and allow women to explore various career opportunities. A significant component of the program will be a focus on preparing the women to seek jobs after graduation. The program will focus on first- and second-year female students whose major is undecided and who are at a critical point in their academic careers to select a major to support post-graduation employment.

Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) – Network2Careers ($25,000)
Through various initiatives specifically aimed at connecting under-represented students with professional alumni from similar backgrounds, the VFIC will serve as a convener and funding resource for its member colleges in order to assist them in facilitating networking relationships that will help under-represented students realize their full potential after graduation. The VFIC will bring together at least eight member colleges to share best practices and help them identify meaningful ways in which to connect their current under-represented students with alumni in careers who were once from similar backgrounds. While the member colleges have not identified their specific projects, VFIC expects the projects will be in the form of networking and career events, virtual mentoring experiences, and/or targeted internship opportunities.

 Access the Community Site

​Access the RFP and related material for the First Opportunity Partners grant program on the FIHE Community Site.

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