Sharing USDOL Grant Experiences
Strengthening Rural Community Colleges Peer Learning Network
Following our April 2022 webinar on Applying for U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) Grants, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) in partnership with the Rural Community College Alliance (RCCA) held a Peer Learning Network discussion to share the insights and tips from rural community colleges that have been recipients of USDOL grants. Three rural community college leaders joined the conversation to share their experiences — Sam Renfroe from Northwest Florida State College, Danielle Keys from Northshore Technical Community College, and Meghan Reece Brown from Central Carolina Community College.
Northwest Florida State College
Northwest Florida State College is located in the Florida panhandle in Niceville, Florida. As a recipient of the Youth Apprenticeship Readiness grant and the Job Corps Scholars grant, Northwest Florida State College provides on-the-job learning and job-related technical instruction in occupations which include carpentry, plumbing, machining, hospitality, with more soon to come.
For the grant application process, it was indicated that Northwest Florida State College leveraged a consultant to help support the writing of their initial grant application. This process allowed them to obtain additional information and resources for future grant applications. As a result, during their next grant application cycle they were able to work internally as a team to collaborate on the writing of their grant application, which also occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and while working remotely.
Northshore Technical Community College
YouthBuild Bogalusa is an educational program of Northshore Technical Community College in Louisiana funded by the YouthBuild grant through the USDOL. The YouthBuild program serves youth ages 16 to 24 who have not completed high school and offers opportunities in community involvement, leadership, and job shadowing. In addition, individuals are provided accelerated technical careers and educational experiences close to home to acquire today’s workforce skills.
A critical component of the YouthBuild Bogalusa are the community partnerships that have been fostered over the years. As a USDOL YouthBuild grant recipient for 20 years, Northshore Technical Community College has remained a pillar in the community empowering youth to achieve their academic, personal, and workplace readiness goals while building a sense of community through public service.
Central Carolina Community College
Located in the heart of North Carolina, Central Carolina Community College is a recipient of the USDOL YouthBuild grant and the Job Corps Scholars grant. Through Central Carolina YouthBuild, local youth who have previously been met with barriers to achieving goals are provided with the opportunity to earn their GED or Adult High School Diploma, along with an industry recognized credential in construction, culinary, or nursing. The Job Corps Scholars Program at Central Carolina Community College provides youth from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to earn in-demand, industry recognized credentials in less than a year while assisting them with obtaining employment.
As a first-time recipient of the USDOL YouthBuild grant, Central Carolina Community College has determined to be intentional in preparing their institution for their students. By observing various data metrics Central Carolina Community College will be able to ensure that the opportunities and support services they are providing their students a clear path to post-secondary education and gainful employment.
Lessons Learned as a USDOL Grant Recipient
Three lessons learned about the overall grant process for each of the institutions are to continue to build relationships and partnerships within the community, being intentional in all aspects, and ensuring to build in additional timing and resources throughout the process.
Partnerships within the community are essential for each of the grant recipients. It was echoed by each institution that building relationships throughout the community with various businesses and community stakeholders is essential not only for their current and previous grants, but also for future grant opportunities. In building and cultivating these relationships in the community, when a new and/or forthcoming grant opportunity presents itself, the institution can potentially leverage existing partnerships.
Being intentional from the very start of writing the grant application and through the conclusion of the grant obligations, allows an institution to serve their students and community in the best manner. From the start it is critical to understand your student population, the community, and potential opportunities. In doing so, you need to have intentionality in the data that is being utilized to ensure that the services and supports that will be provided to students are the ones that are needed. This intentionality throughout the course of the grant will be critical to the success of a program.
A lesson that was learned as a part of grant writing and in part by COVID-19 pandemic is to ensure that you are building in additional time and resources. For many rural institutions, there might be one individual that is leading the grant writing process. It is critical that if it is one or multiple individuals that are writing the grant, to build in time for review and potential edits. Having more eyes on your grant application can help. Additionally, be realistic about the timeline in executing the deliverables of your grant. As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many timelines that have had to be shifted due to numerous factors. Therefore, creating aspirational but realistic timelines can set your institution up for success from the very start.
Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges Initiative to convene rural community college leaders while providing technical support, assistance, and resources on federal policy and advocacy. This initiative builds on ACCT’s prior work through the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges report that engaged rural community college presidents and trustees to gather information about the challenges faced by these institutions.