In a time of shrinking budgets and growing needs, institutions of higher learning actively work toward diversifying their revenue streams. A major component of these efforts is aggressively seeking out grants from federal, state and private entities.
State funding and tuition go toward basic operational costs such as salaries and utilities while grant funding serves to provide innovative learning opportunities for students. As the needs increase, the state dollars are forced to stretch even farther.
“One of the things that we’re dealing with is of course shrinking budgets and shrinking funding from the state,” said Ricky Tompkins, associate vice president for research and planning at NorthWest Arkansas Community College. “If we're going to do innovative programs, truly cutting edge things, we're going to going to seek alternative funding.”
Dr. Ray Wallace, provost and senior vice chancellor at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, had similar thoughts.
“(Grants) expand our research capabilities and expands opportunities for students,” he said. “It takes some of the burden off the budget because we can allocate funds differently. Grants are very helpful for any university.”
Grant funding is responsible for making new programs possible, which in turn make major differences in people’s lives including new technologies and new jobs.
“Grant funding allows faculty, staff, and student researchers to explore new areas,” said Jim Rankin, vice provost for research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. “The research could be focused on topics such as new energy sources, new techniques to fight disease, enhancing food safety and reducing obesity in the state of Arkansas.
“The knowledge gained from research is brought back into the classroom to help educate current and future students,” Rankin continued. “In some cases, the researcher can patent their innovations which can then be used to create jobs in Arkansas.”
Even private universities such as John Brown University reap the benefits of having a strong grants program.
“The grant funding allows us to begin programs on campus that otherwise would not be able to fund,” said April Moreton. “They help us keep tuition lower.”
All the local colleges and universities are working to grow the number of grants they receive and when possible, how much each grant is worth.
At NWACC, the last fiscal year was beyond anyone’s expectations. The office of grants generated a total of $21.18 million of new money in fiscal year 2012, Tompkins said. That’s a 254% increase. The total number of grants received increased by 55%.
Tompkins is quick to note that much of that increase comes from one $14.8 million federal grant for the PACE program, which is to help revise adult development education statewide. NWACC is the grantee and will distribute funds to any of the other two-year colleges in Arkansas that develops a related program.
“We are on the front lines trying to change the effectiveness of developmental education,” he said.
A few years ago, the college was able to expect a couple of million dollars in grants and a normal year is $8 million now, he said.
“For a community college, that’s off the charts,” Tompkins said. “I’m really proud of how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time.”
NWACC’s efforts in recent years have included adding staff to the grants department and developing relationships that allow for the college to seek out larger grants, he said.
Yolanda Carr, coordinator of grants at UAFS, said last year the college received $7 million in grant funding.
Carr started in 2008 and has been able to grow the grant funding from about $5 million to usually about $8 to $9 million, Wallace said.
“That’s very good for us,” he said. “We’re very pleased.”
Wallace said that higher education has seen state support “decline as things get tighter. We knew we wanted to bring in a professional who could help with our faculty and staff development in the areas of grant writing because we knew we would need to supplement that grants we already had and our tuition. It’s an ongoing race for dollars and we wanted a professional to help us with that race.”
The grants at UAFS have ranged from innovative NASA grants to funds that support educating students who come from poverty and are the first member of their family to attend college.
According to Rankin, The University of Arkansas received 453 grants totaling $68.7 million in “sponsored” activities for the fiscal year 2012, which is a 7.2% decrease from the previous year.
Grants are not the only funding source to shrink, according to Rankin, He said the UA received about $2,666 in stimulus funding for fiscal 2012, substantially less than $4 million in 2011 and $20.4 million in 2010.
Moreton said that JBU received about $4 million in grant funding last fiscal year, which is fairly normal for the college. The amount of grant funding the college seeks depends on the goals at the time, including what programs are needed and if there are other fundraising needs at the college that require more focus.
ELECTION TIME FUNDING
Election time is a busy for the federal government. Not only are politicians actively campaigning, but there’s wonder about who will be the next Commander in Chief and how that could affect grant funding availability. Most local higher education officials say they continue to apply for grants and expect there to be more delays in funding during an election year.
“An election year can be the worst time for grants,” Tompkins said. “DC stops because they aren’t sure what is going to happen with the election. But that’s just the way the system works.”
Wallace said that he doesn’t see that scenario affecting UAFS.
“We’re throwing our net so far and so wide that we are not seeing those problems,” he said.
Rankin said that federal grants will be awarded that are already budgeted but that often times the annual federal budget not getting approved in a timely manner places federal funding under a Continuing Resolution.
“Agencies are likely to reduce the number and amount of grants issued if they are not confident in their budget. From the UA perspective, we continue to submit grants during these periods,” Rankin said.
Moreton said that in her opinion, elections do not affect grants as much as ongoing concerns about budgets and funding.
“No one wants to cut funding in an election year,” she said. “We have been applying to long-standing grant programs from the Department of Education that have been around for decades.”