For months, community college leaders have been looking for ways to tap into the vast resources that the federal government is pouring into infrastructure projects. For the most part, infrastructure funds will not flow directly to community colleges, despite the fact additional funds will clearly be needed to meet the anticipated demand for workforce education to skill infrastructure projects.
However, in welcome news, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has just released an infrastructure-related funding opportunity that community colleges may apply for directly. These stand alongside the resources that community colleges can access by working with other state and local stakeholders.
DOL has just issued a funding opportunity announcement for the Building Pathways to Infrastructure Jobs Grant Program, which “will invest in public-private partnerships to develop, implement, and scale worker-centered sector strategy training programs in H-1B industries and occupations critical to meeting the goals of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).” The program’s funding source, as its description indicates, is not from the BIL itself, but rather from the pool of money that results each year from the fees paid by businesses to hire international workers with H-1B visas.
The grants will focus on jobs in “advanced manufacturing; information technology; and professional, scientific, and technical occupations supporting renewable energy, transportation, and broadband infrastructure sectors.”
Education and training providers, including community colleges, may be lead grant applicants. Others include state and local governments, trade associations, unions and more. Required partners include employers, education and training providers, workforce system entities (e.g., workforce development boards), unions or labor-management organizations, and the state apprenticeship agency (SAA) for applications that utilize registered apprenticeships from states with an SAA.
The FOA encompasses two funding rounds, one this year and one next. The first round will award $80 million in grants and the two rounds combined will total $200 million. Applications for the first round are due by July 7.
The second round will open on March 15, 2024, with applications due by June 6, 2024.
DOL will make grants in a “development track” and a “scaling track.” Grants in the development track are to “establish local and regional partnerships that will develop and implement worker-centered sector strategy training programs in one or more infrastructure-related sectors.” Scaling track grants will go to established, effective partnerships to broaden their geographic scope, and could be national.
DOL recommends a 15% match for development track grants and requires this match for scaling track grants. The funding will be split roughly in half between the two tracks, and applicants can only apply for one of the tracks.
Of note is the fact that two priority points will be assigned to projects that serve smaller and/or rural communities. For-profit institutions are excluded from funding.