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College of Education’s research office lands four-year contract with Missouri foundation

August 18, 2010
Brent E. Wholeben
Brent E. Wholeben

NIU’s Office of Research, Evaluation and Policy Studies, an arm of the College of Education, has won the largest contract in its 22-year history.

Following a national bidding competition, administrators of the Missouri Foundation for Health (MFH) will pay $800,000 to REPS over four years in return for external evaluation of some of the major initiatives funded by the organization. Work begins this fall.

The contract covers the assessment of 21 of the foundation’s grants to Missouri agencies tackling mental health and substance abuse issues in youth as well as the evaluation of 10 foundation-funded projects that provide access to mental health services for older adults, treating depression and associated suicide risk.

“They want to know: Are these people doing what they said they would do? Are they evaluating things in the right way? And, in their proposals and contracts, is what they said they were going to do the right way to do it?” REPS Director Brent E. Wholeben said. “We know how to do this. Our job is to set up the evaluation framework and determine whether the foundation’s money has been well-spent.”

Wholeben, who is in St. Louis this week attending a series of MFH meetings with grant recipients, has already begun a cursory review of the youth portion of the contract. Ages covered by those initiatives range from 6 to 21, he said.

One of the major issues to address, Wholeben said, is the co-morbidity between mental health and substance abuse – when two more disorders seem to team up and exacerbate the original diagnosis. “These are at-risk youth with mental health disorders or substance abuse issues,” he said. “Six of the grants deal with youth suicide.”

The foundation’s grants involving Missouri’s older population are equally critical, he added. The state is home to the nation’s highest rate per capita of senior citizens who end their own lives.

REPS staff will make introductory stops at each of the 31 sites and then conduct annual visits to centralized locations where they can meet with grant recipients in small groups.

Otherwise, much of the subsequent surveys, data collection and even meetings will take place online. The work includes reviews of each agency’s own evaluations of their results and new REPS-generated evaluations of those accomplishments.

In the end, Wholeben and his staff will draft a template for agencies to use in the future when applying for dollars from the Missouri Foundation for Health.

The College of Education launched REPS in 1988 to provide college-wide research and evaluation assistance to administration, faculty and staff. The office also contracts with other academic and support service units within the university to assist with research and evaluation objectives on a cost-recovery basis.

REPS competes for or collaborates as a partner in extramural grant activities with state, regional and national agencies, including the U.S. departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice; the National Science Foundation; and the National Institutes of Health.

One pending contract could surpass the current Missouri agreement by nearly $1 million; another could give the office its first work overseas in Africa.