Tactics for Successful Grant Writing
Mount Ida College's David Healy shares insights gleaned from three recent grant application successes
- By Bridget McCrea
For most universities, it's enough to get one grant award within one week's time. Mount Ida College of Newton, MA, tripled its luck in July by taking home three grants totaling more than $2.1 million. Combined, these awards represented the largest grants ever received by the 1,450-student independent college.
The largest of the grants was a $1.72 million award from the United States Department of Education. Issued under the Strengthening Institutions Program, which was established in Title III of the Higher Education Act, the grant will fund major improvements to the College's technology infrastructure, the expansion of staff and resources in the College's Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, faculty development programs, and overall student retention.
According to David Healy, vice president for finance and administration for Mount Ida College, the money will be used to bring the school into the new millennium in terms of technology. "As a small college, we're using dated technology and a student administrative system that isn't well adapted to our needs," said Healy. "The system keeps us from retaining and tracking basic information, to name just one of the challenges."
With a focus on first-generation college students and a vision that centers on taking those students "from potential to achievement," Mount Ida College uses more academic counseling and support than the typical college. This is yet another reason a technology overhaul is in order, said Healy, who added that he envisions a system that allows professors and administrators to track a student's progress over four years.
The funding will be implemented over the next five years, a process that began Oct. 1. Healy said he expects it to take about two years to build out the college's technology infrastructure, with additional time allocated for the application of that technology in the areas of student academic support and outreach. Key expenses will include the addition of three employees, including a data conversion specialist to help set up the system and train users. "Once the data conversion is done," he said, "that position will get replaced with one that's focused on academic support."
Other expenses covered by the grant include the cost of the equipment and software, with programs that allow the school to set baselines and track student progress. "In looking at the budget during the third and fourth year, we'll be spending a lot of money on student inventory, academic advising, workshops, materials and instructional software," said Healy.
This isn't Mount Ida College's first shot at a Title III grant. In fact, Healy said the school has applied for it several times in the past and not succeeded. He called the grant process "fairly straightforward" and said the competitively-rated program includes three individuals who read and either approve or turn down the applications.
"The results are based on a scoring system," said Healy. "How you scored--and what the cutoff was for funding--determines whether you are in or out." Important criteria include how well the report was written and presented, added Healy, who at the time had an experienced grant writer on staff (he has since moved on). To schools that lack that type of in-house expertise, he suggested using a third party consulting or advising firm that's written successful grants in the past.
"The whole grant writing process can be tough for smaller colleges that lack in-house expertise," Healy said. "The good news is that there are resources out there that you can tap into." Mount Ida College's grant-writing team also used the feedback--which Healy admitted was minimal, yet helpful--from its past grant applications to refine this year's submittal.
"We got a little feedback every time and used that information to fine-tune the Title III grant application every year," explained Healy, who advised schools to envision the reader of the application during the drafting process. Focus on the college's commitment to the student and his or her progress, he said, rather than honing in only on the school's need.
David Healy's 5 Grant Writing Tips
1. If at first you don't succeed, try again ... and again.
2. If you lack the internal resources to write a great grant, hire an outside professional to handle it for you.
3. Use the notes and feedback from past grant rejections to hone your current grant application.
4. Keep the grant reader in mind when you're writing up your grant application.
5. Focus on the benefits that the grant will provide for the school's student body.
"Our grant wasn't a great technological document filled with all kinds of detail," said Healy. "It was more about the good that we'd be able to do for our student body with the help of the grant award."
Those efforts paid off handsomely in July. In addition to the U.S. Department of Education grant, Mount Ida College was also awarded a two-year, $204,000 grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, and a three-year, $180,000 grant from an anonymous foundation.
The Davis Educational Foundation grant funds "Creating a Culture of Assessment to Improve Learning," a project that will enhance the ability of Mount Ida faculty to evaluate student learning outcomes and improve the quality of instruction. The grant received from the anonymous foundation will fund the scholarship and educational work of Sandra Bertman, Distinguished Professor of Thanatology and Arts at Mount Ida's internationally known National Center for Death Education.