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Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program

Grants to USA IHEs to Enhance Natural Resources,
Human, Food and Agricultural Sciences Education

Agency Type:


Funding Source:

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United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

Deadline Date:

05/07/18 5:00 PM ET Receipt


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Grants to USA and territories colleges and universities to offer quality undergraduate and graduate degree tracks that will strengthen the Nation’s agricultural and food-related professional and scientific workforce. Applicants are advised that required registrations may take as long as two weeks to complete.

Purpose and Priorities:

HEC directly aligns with:
-2014-2018 USDA Strategic Plan, specifically Goals 1, 2, 3, and 4;
-USDA Research, Economics and Education Action Plan, specifically Goals 6;
-2014-2018 NIFA Strategic Plan, specifically Strategic Goal 1 Sub-goal 1.7

Applications submitted to this grants program must state how the funded project will address the HEC Program Goals:

1. To enhance the quality of instruction for baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees, and first professional degrees in veterinary sciences, in order to help meet current and future workforce needs in the food, agricultural, natural resources, and human (FANH) sciences.

2. To increase the number and diversity of students who will pursue and complete a postsecondary degree in the FANH sciences.

HEC is a NIFA-administered competitive grants program focused on improving formal, baccalaureate or master’s degree level food, agricultural, natural resources, and human FANH sciences education and first professional degree-level education in veterinary medicine (DVM). HEC projects provide funding to eligible applicants to help ensure a competent, qualified and diverse workforce will exist to serve the FANH sciences system. At the same time, HEC-funded projects improve the economic health and viability of communities through the development of degree programs emphasizing new and emerging employment opportunities. Finally, HEC projects address the national challenge to increase the number and diversity of students entering the FANH sciences (i.e., having a FANH sciences workforce representative of the Nation’s population).

The HEC projects are expected to: (a) produce measurable impacts aligned with HEC program goals, (b) promote innovative, educational practices within the FANH sciences that improve how students learn, and (c) include a rigorous evaluation component to assess that project outcomes are met. Institutions must demonstrate capacity for, and a significant ongoing commitment to, the teaching of food, agricultural and human sciences generally, and to the specific need and/or discipline(s) for which a grant is requested. An application must convince a peer panel of a compelling educational challenge; clearly indicate how your methodology is both unique and with merit; offer significant promise of adoption by others; and include a plan for how the project impacts will be sustained once grant funds end.

Projects are to encourage academic institutions, in partnership with organizations and employers, to work collectively to identify and address a state or regional challenge or opportunity facing the FANH sciences education and workforce community; propose comprehensive and coordinated activities to address that challenge or opportunity; make a significant positive impact on the challenge or opportunity being addressed, with the expectation that benefits will continue to accrue after NIFA funding ends; encourage broad participation of students traditionally underrepresented in the FANH sciences; be grounded by concepts documented in relevant background literature promoting innovations in education and student learning; and show an awareness of relevant prior institutional experience and expertise.

Projects must primarily focus on Baccalaureate, Masters, or DVM level education. However, a project may also include an ancillary, target impact on either secondary, or two-year postsecondary students. Projects with a primary target audience of K-14 students or teachers should consider the Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education and Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom (SPECA) Grants Program offered through NIFA.

Social and Behavioral Sciences:

HEC supports social and behavioral science disciplines. Projects that integrate social and biological sciences are encouraged. Incorporation of social and behavioral sciences is important for addressing many of the challenges facing agriculture and rural communities, such as increasing global demand for food production in the face of limited natural resources; improving health and reducing obesity by engaging in heathy diets; and alleviating poverty by fostering economic opportunity.

Leadership Development:

All projects are required to provide leadership skills opportunities. The development of leadership skills, knowledge and qualities are necessary for preparing students for agricultural related careers in government, academia, and the private sector. Projects must demonstrably incorporate a leadership development component to ensure that students are equipped with both technical and leadership abilities.

Specific activities may include:
-Developing practical applications to increase understanding of leadership roles, including critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills, ethics and professionalism, and working in teams;
-Connecting the academic classroom experience with daily leadership roles and organizational activities;
-Providing opportunities for mentoring and shadowing; and -Organizing leadership academies, workshops, trainings, etc.

Global Engagement:

HEC supports advances in U.S. food, agriculture, and forestry. In an increasingly interconnected world, these U.S. advances have global importance, and may require information and cooperation from beyond our borders. Therefore, you are encouraged to include international partnerships or engagement in proposals, as appropriate. When proposing international activities, applications must clearly describe and demonstrate how the international activities will add value to meeting the HEC domestic objectives and metrics for reporting beneficial outputs and outcomes. Additional guidance (Frequently Asked Questions, descriptions of existing MOUs and other resources), for enhancing the potential for global engagement is provided on the Center for International Programs webpage.


NIFA encourages, but does not require, projects that develop content suitable for delivery
through eXtension.

Project Types:

The HEC program will only accept Education/Teaching Projects.

An education or teaching project shall develop human capital in order to help meet current and future national food, agriculture, natural resource and human (FANH) science workplace needs.

HEC projects shall focus on one or more of the Need Areas listed below. Need Areas for FY 2018 are defined below:

Educational Need Areas:

Projects must engage more than a single course or an individual instructor when addressing at least one of the three Educational Need Areas listed below. The rationale for selecting the Educational Need Area(s) must be explained in the context of how the project can contribute to the development of a cadre of students who will either pursue higher degrees in the FANH sciences or be prepared to enter the FANH sciences workforce.

Educational Need Areas are as follows:

a. Curriculum Development, Instructional Delivery Systems and Expanding Student Career Opportunities: Projects should promote new and improved curricula and materials to increase the quality of, and continuously renew, the Nation's academic programs in the FANH sciences. Additionally, projects should stimulate the development, and facilitate the use, of exemplary education models and materials that incorporate the most recent advances in subject matter research, research on teaching and learning theory, and instructional technology.

Examples of eligible projects in this Need Area include:
-Development of courses of study, degree programs, and instructional materials;
-Use of new approaches to the study of traditional subjects;
-Introduction of new subjects, or new applications of knowledge, pertaining to the FANH sciences;
-Hands-on learning experiences and methods to extend learning beyond the classroom and provide students with opportunities to solve complex problems in the context of real-world situations; or
-Opportunities for students to complete apprenticeships, internships, career mentoring experiences, or other participatory learning experiences.

Projects are to develop students’ analytical, interpersonal, leadership, communications, problem-solving, computational, and decision-making skills and abilities. Projects that focus on integrated, multidisciplinary, learner-centered instruction should be considered. Furthermore, projects are expected to reach large audiences efficiently and effectively; reinforce recent research on how to motivate students to learn, retain, apply, and transfer knowledge, skills, and competencies; and integrate and synthesize knowledge from several disciplines.

b. Faculty Preparation and Enhancement for Teaching. Projects should advance faculty development in the areas of teaching competency, subject matter expertise, pedagogy, responsiveness to changes in student demographic composition and learning styles, and student recruitment and advising skills. Training of targeted faculty recipients must be relevant to the identified educational needs of the students, who will be the beneficiaries of such faculty development. Any individual recipient of federal funds must be an "eligible participant" as defined in the definitions section of this RFA (Part VIII, E.).

Examples of eligible projects in this Need Area include activities that enable teaching faculty to:
-Develop a self-sustaining model for faculty professional development that better prepares new faculty for teaching careers, or provides retraining for experienced faculty;
-Gain experience with recent developments or innovative technology relevant to their teaching responsibilities;
-Work with scientists or professionals in government, industry, or other colleges or universities to learn new applications in a field;
-Expand competence with new methods of information delivery;
-Create assessments that document student learning outcomes or that identify conceptual areas or skills particularly challenging to students, followed by appropriate changes in instructional approaches to effectively address these issues; or
-Increase utilization of teaching methods that address the special needs of non- traditional students or students from groups that are underrepresented in the FANH sciences workforce.

c. Facilitating Interaction with Other Academic Institutions. This Need Area promotes linkages between baccalaureate degree-granting institutions to maximize the use of resources supporting outstanding education in the FANH sciences. Additionally, this Need Area supports linkages between baccalaureate degree-granting institutions, secondary, and/or 2-year postsecondary institutions to make instruction targeted at undergraduate students available to secondary students as advanced placement credit or as transfer credit from associate-degree programs into baccalaureate-level programs. Faculty research sabbaticals at other academic institutions that will enhance teaching and advising are also supported.

Examples of eligible projects in this Need Area may include:
-Development and use of articulation agreements, 2+2 or 2+2+2 arrangements, advanced placement credit transfer, or the sharing of faculty and facilities; a project that focuses on developing and implementing comprehensive, multi-institutional practices proven to recruit and retain K-14 level students with a focus on cultivating those students to pursue a 4-year FANH sciences degree.
-A program to reduce duplication of similar educational resources across institutions and to increase instructional efficiencies. Examples may include multi-institutional or interstate approaches to curriculum development, faculty sharing, cross enrollments, joint degrees, regionalization of academic programs, regional and national workshops and symposia, and similar methodologies.

Grant Types:

Applicants may submit proposals for one of the following grant types:

a. Planning Activity

Planning Activity Grants support scientific meetings that bring together educators to identify education/teaching needs, update information, or advance an area of education/teaching. Support for a limited number of meetings covering subject matter encompassed by this solicitation will be considered for partial or, if modest, total support. Individual planning activity grants must not exceed $30,000 for up to two years and are not renewable. Indirect costs are not permitted on Planning Activity grant awards. Planning Activity Grants may be used to facilitate strategic planning session(s) required of faculty, industry, professional association, community leaders, or other necessary participants for the specific purpose of developing a formal plan leading to a subsequent submission of a Collaborative Grant. A Planning Activity grant application may not be submitted in the same year for which a Collaborative Grant application for the same project is also submitted.

b. Regular Grant

Regular Grants support targeted original Education/Teaching projects. An eligible, individual institution, independent branch campus, or branch institution of a State system may submit a grant application for project activities to be undertaken principally on behalf of its own students or faculty, and to be managed primarily by its own personnel. The applicant executes the project without the requirement of sharing grant funds with other project partners. Applicants may request up to $150,000 (total, not per year) for a Regular Grant application.

c. Collaborative Grants

Collaborative Grants support projects with at least one additional partner or a multi-partner approach to enhance education/teaching programs. Collaborative Grants should build linkages to generate a critical mass of expertise, skill and technology to address education/teaching programs related to the FANH sciences. Grants can reduce duplication of efforts and/or build capacity and should be organized and led by a strong applicant with documented project management knowledge and skills to organize and carry out the initiative.

Collaborative Grant Type 1 (CG1) (Applicant + One Partner). Applicants may request up to $300,000 (total, not per year) for a CG1 project. In this type of project, the applicant executes the project with assistance from one additional partner. The partners must share grant funds. Specifically, the applicant institution will transfer at least one-half of the awarded funds to the other institution participating in the project.

Collaborative Grant Type 2 (CG2) (Applicant + Two or more Partners). Applicants may request up to $750,000 (total, not per year) for a CG2 project. The applicant executes the project with assistance from at least two additional partners. The additional partners must share grant funds. The applicant institution/organization submitting a CG2 proposal must retain at least 30 percent but not more than 70 percent of the awarded funds and no cooperating entity may receive less than 10 percent of awarded funds. A CG2 project differs from a CG1 in project scope and impact. CG2 projects must support a multi-partner approach to solving a major state or regional challenge in FANH sciences education at the baccalaureate, masters or DVM level. CG2 projects are characterized by multiple partners (each providing a specific expertise) organized and led by a strong applicant with documented project management knowledge and skills to organize and carry out the initiative.

Reported impacts of CG2 projects must include (but are not limited to) the following:
-An assessment of significant progress toward addressing the national challenge of increasing the number and diversity of FANH sciences baccalaureate or higher degree graduates, while addressing the specific state or regional opportunity defined in the grant application;
-Documented enhanced retention rates of students in FANH majors exposed to CG2 Project activities;
-A comprehensive project evaluation, using the indicators and methods defined in this RFA, that informs the baccalaureate, masters or DVM FANH sciences community and others about the effectiveness of this CG2 Project through the dissemination of results via publications, blogs, conferences/meetings, etc.;
-A description of completed or ongoing activities supported by this CG2 Project accompanied with a description of those same activities that will be sustained once grant funds end; and
-A description of any related activities expected to occur as an outgrowth of this funded project.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 181100

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Estimated Size of Grant:

Planning Activity grants are up to $30,000.

Regular grants are up to $150,000.

Collaborative 1 grants are up to $300,000.

Collaborative 2 grants are up to $750,000.

Term of Contract:

Planning Activity grants are up to 24 months in duration.

Regular grants are 24 to 36 months in duration.

Collaborative 1 grants are 24 to 36 months in duration.

Collaborative 2 grants are 36 months in duration.

There are no limits on the total grant program funds that may be awarded to any one institution/organization in successive years of this competition. Successful award recipients may apply for additional awards in subsequent years either as a lead applicant or collaborator.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Applications may be submitted by: (a) U.S. public or private nonprofit colleges and universities offering a baccalaureate or first professional degree in at least one discipline or area of the FANH sciences; (b) land-grant colleges and universities, (including land grant institutions in the Insular Areas); (c) colleges and universities having significant minority enrollments and a demonstrable capacity to carry out the teaching of food and agricultural sciences; and (d) other colleges and universities having a demonstrable capacity to carry out the teaching of food and agricultural sciences.

Applications will only be accepted from institutions that are 4-year colleges and universities.

An applicant also must meet the definition of an Eligible Institution/Organization as stated in the RFA (see Part VIII, E., Definitions). For the purposes of this program, the individual branches of a State university or other system of higher education that are separately accredited as degree- granting institutions are treated as separate institutions, and are therefore eligible for HEC awards. Separate branches or campuses of a college or university that are not individually accredited as degree-granting institutions are not treated as separate institutions. An institution eligible to receive an award under this program includes a research foundation maintained by an eligible college or university. Accreditation must be by an agency or association recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

Any individual (eligible participant) receiving Federal funds above must be a citizen or national of the United States, as defined in this RFA (see Part VIII, Definitions). Where eligibility is claimed under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a) (22), documentary evidence from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as to such eligibility must be made available to NIFA upon request. Failure to meet an eligibility criterion by the time of application deadline may result in the application being excluded from consideration or, even though an application may be reviewed, will preclude NIFA from making an award.

The following applies to CG1 and CG2 applicants only: The applicant institution must meet the definition of “eligible institution” as specified in §3405.2(i); the other institutions participating in a CG1 and CG2 project proposals are not required to meet the definition of “eligible institution” as specified in §3405.2(i), nor required to meet the definition of “college” or “university” as specified in §3405.2(f).

Award recipients may subcontract to organizations not eligible to apply provided such organizations are necessary for the conduct of the project.

Failure to meet an eligibility criterion by the application deadline may result in the application being excluded from consideration or, even though an application may be reviewed, will preclude NIFA from making an award.

Pre-Application Information:

There is no limit on the number of applications that may be submitted by an applicant institution. However, a successful applicant institution/organization will only be awarded a maximum of two (2) grants per year under this program. No more than one (1) CG2 grant will be awarded to an institution/organization in any one, annual HEC grants program competition, and generally, an individual academic (or other) unit (a college, school of agriculture, etc.) within the institution/organization may only have one (1) active, CG2 grant in effect at any time.

Prior to preparing an application, it is recommended that the Project Director/Principal Investigator (PD/PI) first contact an Authorized Representative (AR, also referred to as Authorized Organizational Representative, or AOR) to determine if the organization is prepared to submit electronic applications through

If not (e.g., the institution/organization is new to the electronic grant application process through, then the one-time registration process must be completed PRIOR to submitting an application. It can take as long as two weeks to complete the registration process so it is critical to begin as soon as possible.

Applications must be received by 5:00 PM Eastern Time on May 7, 2018.

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Applicants and other interested parties are encouraged to contact:

Programmatic Contact:

Antonio McLaren, Ed.D., National Program Leader
Division of Community and Education
Location: 4435 Waterfront Centre
800 9th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024

Phone: (202) 720 - 0742
Fax: (202) 720 - 9366

Administrative/Business Contact:

Sondra Watkins, Team Leader
Awards Management Division
Office of Grants and Financial Management
Location: 2170 Waterfront Centre
800 9th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Phone: (202) 401 - 4249
Fax: (202) 401-3237

Rochelle McCrea, Team Leader
Awards Management Division
Office of Grants and Financial Management
Location: 2160 Waterfront Centre
800 9th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Phone: (202) 401 - 2880
Fax: (202) 401 - 6271

CFDA Number:


Funding or Pin Number:


URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming

USA Territories: American Samoa (USA)   Guam (USA)   Puerto Rico (USA)   Virgin Islands (USA)   Northern Mariana Islands (USA)

USA Compact Free Associations: The Federated States of Micronesia (USA)   Marshall Islands (USA)   Republic of Palau (USA)