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Statewide collaborations become the norm to winning grants


Dana Zorovich
and Terri Burchell

Resource and grant development has reached new levels of monolithic collaborative scale. With scarce funds to go around at both the state and federal levels, grant competitions are taking the form of biggest-bang-for-the-buck awards, with most expected to go to large consortia or statewide projects.

This competitive landscape for desperately needed resources has stimulated a new fervor of partnership, compromise and pragmatism, all for the benefit of students.

Take, for example, the recent competitions from both private and public sectors prompting community colleges to form statewide and often multistate collaboratives. There is the Completion by Design grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced during the White House Community College Summit last fall. Applicants needed to work with a “cadre” of campuses or colleges, often spanning broad in-state regions. The selected grantees are expected to be announced soon, but most of the site visits have been at campuses with large student populations.

Another opportunity currently underway is the highly publicized U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Community College and Career Training Grants Program. While the department will award funds to selected individual colleges that apply, it will award a larger portion of the grants to applying consortia, up to $30 million for some. The idea is that education and career training programs that can be completed in two years or less and prepare TAA worker program participants for work in high-wage, high-skill occupations through a more comprehensive system will have greater impact. The department expects to announce selected applicants in June.

Collaborating on proposals

Several consortia have organized or renewed existing partnerships to prepare competitive applications for these funds. In Florida, where there are 28 community and state colleges as well as a sizable quantity of TAA-impacted workers, an initiative led by Miami Dade College promises a hybrid delivery of desperately needed skills training in alignment with county employer market data.

The program—known as Florida Training for Employment, Achievement and Mobility (TEAM)—was organized several months before the department began accepting applicants for the TAA-focused grants to community colleges. The strategy is centered on servicing TAA workers through analyzing data in each service region to ensure adequate resources are distributed to key regions. Florida has scaled up statewide collaborative projects in the past for both private and public resources, but this organized effort seems to signal a new level of college system sophistication and foresight.

This poses an interesting conundrum for community college leaders in the development of such efforts: which institutions should lead and which should take a subordinate role in a systemic application? The answer in Florida has been partly volunteerism and partly an algorithm of sorts based on institutional characteristics. The selection of the project lead and fiscal agent in Florida was based on a rubric developed by the state’s resource development officers that examined features such as institutional infrastructure and fiscal management.

Different approaches

In Michigan, where community colleges are not arranged in a system, each independent institution is using workforce service needs and its ability to lead on a statewide grant to determine the focus of what will amount to statewide proposals and one national effort. In other states, selecting the lead institution on the grant was less of an elective process and more of a selection process. For example, in Missouri and Virginia, the chancellor or chief executive of the state community colleges system picked an institution to serve as the fiscal agent based on institutional capacity and the ability to leverage an infrastructure with a high degree of success.

In the Midwest, a systemic initiative in Nebraska is the result of shared leadership in statewide planning. It is based on a belief in a student performance model—one designed to lead to longitudinal success with employment in related fields as the ultimate outcome.

The colleges in the state have submitted a joint application, partnering to meet the needs of the state and advance the agenda of building an educated workforce premised on college and career readiness. The colleges merged economic development information with the Nebraska Career Education Model to develop a shared, data-driven strategy to educate and train the workforce for the targeted industries of the state. 

While Metropolitan Community College is serving as the project lead, Michael Chipps, president of Mid-Plains Community College (MPCC), describes the shared vision for the project as rooted in systemic planning that grew over time.

“To create, drive and lead the modernization of thought and practice on a broader scale will take a strong and clear vision, persistence and a longitudinal perspective on where it can take not only a college but a state, region and eventually a nation,” said Chipps, who serves on the board of directors of the American Association of Community Colleges

Chipps believes that large federal funding opportunities foster a climate that is ripe to build broad-based political good will, as well as build much needed partnerships across state lines. MPCC is known for connecting communities and colleges in rural America.

While there have been many large-scale grant opportunities in the past—such as the federal Health Information Technology Consortia grants in 2011—the frequency and the mode of this type of competitive resource signals to institutional advancement officers and other leaders that the notion of statewide or broad comprehensive partnership is no longer an occasional opportunity, but more often a new demand in the resource development efforts of community colleges.

Zorovich is director of resource and grant development at Palm Beach State College (Florida). Burchell is area director of institutional advancement at Mid-Plains Community College (Nebraska).