MONEY TREE: Utah College Sends Lobbyist to DC In Search of Grants
SALT LAKE CITY(AP) — The adage says that if you’re hunting ducks, you need to go where the ducks are.
Cash-starved Salt Lake Community College followed this advice and dispatched an administrator to Washington, D.C., to secure grants from federal agencies. For good or ill, that’s where the money is for community colleges in these days of tightening state budgets.
The college changed Mason Bishop’s job title from vice president for institutional advancement to special assistant to the president last July and posted him in the nation’s capital.
It was familiar ground for Bishop, who spent six years as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Labor during the Bush administration. He works out of his home in suburban Burke, Va.
“We want to enhance programs at the college and opportunities for our students. We are not becoming dependent on federal money. We see it as a diversification of our funding sources,” said Bishop, a Brigham Young University alumnus. Recent federal grants support Salt Lake Community College programs in green jobs, digital media and biotech development.
Bishop’s assignment reflects a new reality for the nation’s community colleges, two-year schools that serve as low-cost portals to higher education for millions of Americans and play a key role in retraining workers displaced in the economic downturn. They can no longer rely on the states for funding, and private money isn’t widely available to them.
“It seems that more and more colleges are sending people to Washington to secure earmarks and federal grants,” said Utah Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg. “For example, we are now applying for a federal job-training grant through the Department of Labor. SLCC is the lead institution in applying for the grant.”
President Barack Obama has signaled a willingness to direct federal money to community colleges, which he regularly singles out for praise. He contends that two-year education institutions will play a major role in meeting his goal of 60 percent of the nation’s 25- to 34-year-olds holding at least an associate’s degree by 2020. But expanding the reach of community colleges requires a massive investment.
These schools, which account for nearly half the nation’s college enrollment, can’t compete with research universities for private money. Foundations and rich corporations are more interested in supporting universities’ grand plans, while alumni generally direct their giving to the institution where they earned their bachelor’s degree. For Salt Lake Community College graduates, that is most likely the University of Utah, which has succeeded in tapping its alumni to support its billion-dollar capital campaign.
“The (graduates) who did go on to a four-year institution do tend to consider that their school,” said Salt Lake City architect Annie Schwemmer, a 1995 SLCC graduate who is president of its newly formed alumni association. “However, I found when we contact them, they had such a great experience at SLCC that they are happy to associate with it.
“A lot of time, they had a better time there than at their four-year institution. The classes are smaller, (and) the professors are adjuncts who had a lot of real-world experience to share.”
Schwemmer was a high-achieving high school student who went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Utah. But she considers SLCC her alma mater.
“I like the community college philosophy of taking education to the masses,” she said.
Bishop stressed that chasing earmarks isn’t part of his job description. Salt Lake Community College is seeking funds that Congress has already appropriated to support specific work force development initiatives. Accordingly, Bishop is angling for grants, both competitive and discretionary, from four key federal agencies: the departments of Education, Energy and Labor and the National Science Foundation.
The college has netted $15 million in federal money this year, more than offsetting the millions lost because of recent cuts in the college’s state appropriation, Bishop said. One recent $2.7 million job-training grant came from Labor to support programs at its Center for New Media, now under construction at the college’s South City Campus.
“We’re the college that can support the jobs and do the training to help that industry grow in the state of Utah,” Bishop said. He will oversee SLCC’s Utah-based staff that implements the federal grant and ensures compliance with its terms and fiscal integrity.
Bishop returns to Utah monthly and will spend most of the legislative session at the state Capitol, where he has been a familiar face, appearing before lawmakers.