Supercommittee Fail: The Education Funding Crisis That Keeps on Giving

December 13, 2011 | By Guest Contributor | Post a Comment

(This guest post was written by Susan Perri, MPA , a grantwriting specialist, philanthropic fundraiser and nonprofit social media strategist. Ms. Perri is a grants consultant for Hanover Grants and helps organizations use communications for social good. She can be found online at and followed on Twitter @WinGrants.) By now we all know the bottom line: the Supercommittee failure mandates $1.2 trillion be cut from defense and “non-security domestic” programs. The failure to reach agreement will ultimately eliminate significant federal funding for higher education for the 2012-2013 school year. According to the Congressional Budget Office, non-defense discretionary spending like federal student aid will be slashed by almost 8% in 2013. And it keeps going: in 2014 about $183 million in cuts will be made to programs like Federal Work-Study, SEOG and TEACH Grant programs.

Looking ahead to education grants season in the early spring of 2012, it’s clear that  competition will be fierce. Here are some thoughts to help us all come to that table prepared.

First and foremost, grants are not a means to fix your budget. Many institutions will look to grants to make up revenue lost from tuition-driven programs and other federal streams. However,  the vast majority of federal grants do not fit this description. There is increasing emphasis on prioritizing federal education grant funds for programs that are “innovative”; unfortunately having a budget crisis does not qualify as innovation.

So, what is innovation? Across agencies and funders it requires scalable solutions and involves collaboration across a broad and diverse range of stakeholders to improve institutional capacity as well as that of educators,  impact student achievement outcomes and have potential for replication.  Most federal grant programs are interested in testing new, novel approaches to advancing student performance (especially underserved and high-risk populations) that can be established and duplicated as best practices. Have a look at previous awardees under the Investing In Innovation (i3) Fund for an overview of what the Department of Education considers truly innovative:

Diversify your fundraising plan and consider private foundations where federal sources fall short. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and Skoll Foundation all support higher education initiatives and could present a viable means of support where other programs cannot.

Finally, collaborate and cooperate with others. Rather than using this scarcity of funds as a means to increase competition, view it is a way to create new connections and share resources across a larger scale. Most funders want to see these kinds of projects shared across community stakeholders, and as such these applications will have a competitive advantage. It makes good sense in tough times; after all, we’re all in this together.


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