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Demystifying Title III Grants - The White Whale of Community Colleges

Years ago, I attended my first community college advancement conference in Washington DC with hundreds of other professionals. I didn’t know much about federal grants at the time, but was excited and ready to learn.

I quickly noticed the weight of words when others discussed “Title III”. Title III grants were spoken of in hushed tones – the white whale of grants, an unknowable beast of consequence. There was talk of a “slate”, which apparently everyone but me understood to be something other than a chalkboard.

I attended a workshop to try and learn more about this mysterious source of funding. The speaker filled my ears with complicated jargon, Code of Federal Regulations language, and cautionary tales of woe in applying.

However, in my years of writing, reading, and thinking about Title III grants, I have learned that they are not the mysterious creatures I once believed. Yes, they are complex, challenging, and highly competitive, but let me break down some basic ideas about Title III grants.


What ARE Title III grants?

In this case, I am referring to the U.S. Department of Education’s Title III Part A – Strengthening Institutions Program. Sometimes it is referred to as “Title III” only, other people call it “S.I.P.”, so you know the lingo. These grants to higher education institutions are five-year awards of $2,250,000, or $450,000 a year maximum.

Title III grant consultant - college students

They can only be awarded to eligible institutions, which are colleges and universities that meet at least one of two requirements: 1) at least 50% of your students receive Pell grants, or 2) you have low educational and general expenditures. You can read more about eligibility here.

This grant program is intended to support institutions that serve low-income students “by providing funds to improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management, and fiscal stability of eligible institutions.” (US Dept. of Ed.) Title III grant funds can be used for wide range of options, unlike most federal grants that are very specific. Funds may be used for:

  • Student service programs designed to improve academic success

  • Innovative, customized instruction courses designed to help retain students

  • Planning and faculty development

  • Administrative management

  • Development and improvement of academic programs

  • Joint use of instructional facilities

  • Construction and maintenance

The reason that some consider Title III grants to be mysterious is because they are so competitive and difficult to obtain. Winning grants often receive scores in the high 90s to perfect 100s, or sometimes even higher if extra points are offered.

What does “funding down the slate” mean?

Title III grant - what do you mean?

New Title III grant competitions are generally held every other year. In the off-years, the Department of Education funds the prior year’s applications starting with the highest scoring application that was not funded in the first round. The prior year applications are ranked by score, then funded “down the slate” of applications until no more funding is available.

How can my college secure a Title III grant?

1. Ensure eligibility.

First, make sure your college is eligible to apply for the grant. You must apply for eligibility. The Title III eligibility application is tied to your waiver of the non-federal cost-share requirement for the federal work study program and federal supplemental education opportunity grants (FSEOG) program.

Check with your financial aid director – chances are, they already apply for this every year.

2. Start planning early.

Once the Notice Inviting Applications (NIA) is released, you will only have 30-90 days (max!) to apply. Start having campus discussions as early as possible about what your college needs to do to increase retention and graduation rates.

Also, make sure your institution is registered in and SAM. These can take a week or more – check with your finance office.

3. Map out a project that meets your unique needs for student success and retention.

Coming up with a highly fundable project can be daunting. Here are some conversation starters to have with key stakeholders at your institution:

o What are our main institutional goals for the next 5-10 years?

o What are the major hurdles holding us back from meeting our students’ needs?

o What does our student retention data tell us, and how will we address it?

o What would we do differently if we had an additional $2.25M over the next five years?

Take time to read through previously published NIA and abstracts to get an idea of what kinds of projects have been funded in years past.

4. Get started on your first draft, or consider hiring a Title III grant consultant.

The Notice Inviting Applications should give you a framework for how to apply. If you have never applied for a Title III grant or another federal grant, you may consider hiring a Title III grant consultant.

When should we hire a Title III grant consultant?

Sometimes it is best to have an outside firm support your goals of securing a Title III grant. Consultants who specialize in Title III grants know the nuances of this unusual grant opportunity, including the regulations on funding and key components of a fundable project. Title III grant consultants can advise your team on what has worked (and not worked) for other institutions like yours, as well as provide clarity and guidance on your ideas.

Here are some instances when you might want to consider hiring Cascadia Consulting or another firm as your Title III grant consultant:

  • Your institution has applied for Title III grants in the past, but can’t seem to score high enough to get funded

  • You don’t have federal grant writing expertise currently on staff

  • You have grant expertise, but staff are fully occupied with other priorities such as a capital campaign

  • Your leadership team is in transition and/or you aren’t sure of the direction to take a Title III application


Whether you choose to hire a Title III grant consultant or not, all eligible institutions should consider applying for Title III grants. They can be truly transformational for your college and ultimately, for your students!

I hope you found this article helpful! If you did, please “like” and share it with a friend at your local community college! 😊

Questions or comments? Share them and we’ll get back with you!

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