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I´m Just an Idea: How an Idea Becomes a Grant-Funded Project

Winter 2008 | Archives

A November Associated Press article addressed the recent attention to community colleges, focusing on the community college resources (or lack thereof ). Several prominent philanthropic foundations have announced major gifts to community colleges, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation´s gift of up to a half billion dollars on a college completion program over the next four years. Other foundations focusing on community colleges and their students have equally familiar names: Lumina, Kellogg and Ford have all gifted community colleges recently.

"At MCC, we have experienced significant enrollment growth over the last several years, putting positive stress on departments and programs to expand services and outreach to more students every year. Meanwhile, state budgets have tightened, and our leaders have had to make difficult decisions about how to allocate finite resources," said Pat Crisler, associate vice president of development.

"As an institution, we continue to value our ability to be responsive to the changing needs of our students, the regional workforce and our communities. The net effect is that innovation, new programs and growth may not be immediately fundable through normal means; rather, external resources are needed to enable us to meet the needs of our stakeholders."

With the economic downturn, the chances of community college funding being cut increase, making grants and gifts even more vital—and more competitive.

MCC receives private, federal and state grants each year to fund projects and initiatives that meet changing student and community needs. The proactive grant process begins with an idea that meets one of these clear needs. The idea is submitted to the Grants Office, where it is reviewed in relation to the College´s mission, strategic initiatives and funding potential. The idea then gets discussed and developed, including finding a funder if the idea isn´t in response to an existing request for proposals.

Once the concept is refined, a proposal overview form is submitted and reviewed at the cabinet level. Any further development is a collaborative effort between the Grants Office and the person or people who originated the idea. The final proposal is submitted and the president, as the authorized representative of the College, will receive notification as to whether the proposal was approved and will be funded.

Generally, grant ideas support the College´s mission in resource development, learning spaces, student achievement and success, student-centered services/student focus, information access/communication and employee achievement. Many of the innovative projects currently in progress at Metropolitan Community College are grant funded, including the MCC Cares Service Learning Project, Community-Based Job Training Grant and the Access to a College Education program.

Crisler said that some grants support students in ways that no other assistance can. For example, high school students who enroll in dual credit classes (which offer high school and college credit concurrently) are not eligible for federal financial aid. In addition, a recent study found that more than 40 percent of interested students at local high schools could not participate in dual credit opportunities because of the associated costs. Thanks to grants from local foundations, MCC is able to offer dual credit tuition assistance, so more students can get a jumpstart on successful college careers.

"Grant projects, funded or not, often serve as wonderful creative tools that catalyze groups to envision new ways of providing services and better ways of working together," Crisler said. "No matter what the outcome of the funding decision may be, there is almost always something positive that comes from bringing creative minds together to identify solutions to collective problems."

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