Proposal Writing and Sources of Funding in Distance Education

Funding Sources

There are a number of foundations, government agencies, corporations, Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) and cable companies funding projects in distance education. The process is quite competitive as dollars for all types of educational projects are scarce. The most successful grants are those which "encourage collaboration among institutions and within communities" (Krebs, 1991). Krebs suggests including libraries, community halls, homes, and corporate locations.

Krebs points out that the funding research she did revealed that education is being transformed throughout the country at local, regional, and national levels. "From school reform and restructuring efforts to take-home computers for students and parents, from electronic pen pals to interactive course instruction, from voice mail systems for family-school linkages to video conferences for teacher training - the diversity of applications is overwhelming." Hundreds of innovative educational projects have been funded across all educational institutions, agencies and professional associations. She recommends examining the types of projects that are funded to gain a perspective on the imaginative applications of technology's potential and understand the logic behind the historical funding pattern of the institution.

The federal government has undertaken major initiatives to support distance education and funds cover projects throughout the range of education. One emphasis is to involve citizens in addressing their community's educational needs. School reform and restructuring are important issues and can be addressed effectively by distance education. Proposals in science, mathematics, technology, humanities, languages, English as a second language (ESL), Adult basic education (ABE), and health care are subjects that are receiving grants.

Be aware that the competition is keen and that identifying other subjects that need attention may mark your proposal as worthy. Proposals which target or include prison education projects are beginning to receive more attention as we learn about the correlation between more education and recidivism. Be aware that even though an institution may have funded distance education projects, they may not be familiar with terms such as distance education/learning or teleconferencing. Carefully explain these terms as they relate to the proposal. In some cases you may be able to identify an institution with an interest in innovative educational programs where distance education is not specifically mentioned.

She believes that a key area for funding concerns support for teacher training to transform the traditional curriculum and classroom practices into interactive teaching because distance education requires more preparation, more materials production, and more out-of-class time with students. Grants can provide distance education faculty development to strengthen personal teaching styles and to develop effective course materials.

Funding can be granted to extend the network's outreach and to enhance participation through the use of interactive technologies and the integration of multimedia, as well as evaluation of the program's outcomes. A key is to target funding requests to specific funding agencies. For example, request equipment donations from manufacturers, and request foundation and government grants to support specific curricula areas and teacher training and recruitment. Proposals will also be more successful if partnerships are created and the program can be economically self-sustaining. Another useful resource is the annual "Foundation Grants Index."

Proposal Writing

These pitfalls to avoid in proposal writing and ideas to consider in your search for funding were suggested by Constance M. Lawry, Arts and Sciences Extension, Oklahoma State University.

    1. You will be writing up to the end of the deadline period.
    2. Most agencies try to show what they want in the proposal guidelines. Many are reluctant to talk to grant writers over the phone because they might say something off hand that could lead the writer astray or to avoid the appearance of showing favoritism. However, do not assume that the agency will not speak with you until you call and they refuse to answer your questions.
    3. When the proposal guidelines are first announced, call the project director and ask questions. This will accomplish several things; the project director will know your name and the institution's name; the reviewer will get to know you and the institution as well as understand your needs and the proposal you are submitting. It will help you clarify the purpose of the funding and whether your institution's goals match the funding agency's goals. Ask the project director if he/she would review a draft proposal and when it would be most convenient to receive the draft. This favor should be asked well before the project staff becomes involved with the application deadline submissions. Some agencies may perceive reviewing a draft proposal as showing favoritism, but others will review a draft. If you get agreement to read the draft proposal, consider meeting with the project director to deliver the draft proposal in person or meeting several days after the draft has been received and read. While this is an added expense, it maybe more helpful to get the project director's reactions in person rather than through a brief letter or telephone conversation.
    4. Criteria for draft proposal review. Ask that it be read to see if it complies with the proposal guidelines, format and other requirements. Ask if it is clear and if there are areas which should be rewritten to provide more information. Ask if it meets the purpose of the funding. Ask for other suggestions that will make the proposal more worthwhile for consideration for the grant.
    5. Write grants that are of interest to you. Regardless of how well funded a grant may be, it will still involve sacrifice of your time, energy and enthusiasm. If you are not interested in doing the work, do not apply for the grant. Instead, find a source of funding for projects that you personally want to do.
    6. Look at the objectives of the grant to aid you in determining how your grant proposal will be judged. When the objectives seem to be asking for the same information in two sections, state in the information in the first section and reference that with the page number in the second section so that the reviewer will know that you have supplied the information. If you do not do this,the reviewer may not remember that the information has been supplied and could disqualify your proposal from further consideration. Describe the outcome of the grant in measurable terms. Describe the population that will benefit from the funding.
    7. Adhere to the format requirements which may use the words "should" or "must" in describing how the proposal should be formatted. For example, instructions that state you "should not exceed 15 pages" implies that the proposal might not be disqualified for page overage. Instructions that state you "must not exceed 15 pages" implies that an overage would disqualify the proposal. If you have questions, contact the project director.
    8. Do not write by committee. Assigning the writing by section to individuals may result in sections that do not relate to each other. Writing styles may change and the proposal may not "hang together." Instead, collect information from all those involved in the proposal, but assign the final writing to one writer who has the authority to make decisions on what is important to the success of the proposal. This writer should understand the total proposal, the proposal writing process and how best to present the information.
    9. Proposal image. There was a time when it was suggested that the proposal not be overly fancy in binding, appearance or graphics. With the general acceptance of desk top publishing systems and the reviewers' knowledge that this method of presentation is not expensive, many grants are now prepared with this method. In fact,reviewers may react adversely to proposals prepared on traditional typewriters as they are now so accustomed to desktop publishing documents.
    10. Topics for Research. To develop new research in distance education, Lawry suggests that you offer to conduct research on distance education students through vendors of distance education programming. Most vendors are not conducting research and may be willing to provide funding or negotiate a lower rate for programming if research is conducted on students studying through their programming. Lawry suggests that you search for the answers to the questions that befuddle you. Research examples include the following:
      • tracking graduates to see if they tested out of college courses due to their advanced placement high school distance education classes;
      • tracking characteristics of distance education students to determine if there are discernible traits for those who do well in distance education and those who do not do well;
      • determining if there are differences in learning which can be attributed to the way a course is taught or the school environment;
      • determining how and if tapes are being used, track how many students and which students view or review the course on video tapes; do struggling students make more use of tapes to review and understand the content; do excellent students make more use of the tapes and succeed because of that;
      • documenting the use of software provided for content study;
      • conducting in-depth interviews with students and teachers to determine factors contributing to success or failure;
      • conduct in-depth interviews with teachers and administrators to determine factors leading to adoption of distance education;
      • conduct in-depth interviews with non-involved teachers to determine how they feel about distance education
    11. Preliminary proposal. Write a brief preliminary proposal and submit it to an organization or company which might be interested in the topic. If they seem interested,write a full proposal. Your preliminary proposal may also elicit other topics in which the organization is more interested. If you can fulfill their immediate research needs they may be more open to funding there search you want to conduct.
    12. Conducting classroom research may first involve interesting and training teachers in conducting classroom research and research techniques.
    13. Future funding. Any proposal you submit should include your future financial needs to keep the program operating after it is established. Consider funding for maintenance and repair, salaries, additional equipment and other necessities. You should describe how other funds will be obtained if the granting agency will not fund future costs. Attach letters of commitment, if necessary.
    14. Anticipate the devil's advocate questions. The proposal should answer the questions: Why should I fund you? What is your track record? Why you are credible?
    15. Department of Education Reviewing Panels have been reduced to two people in many cases. This puts even more pressure on you to state your case clearly and make it stand out from the other proposals.
    16. Rejection? If your proposal is rejected, call and find out why it was rejected. Talk to the project director or the reviewers to determine exactly what was wrong. Were there 15 similar proposals, was it not clearly written, or was it too expensive. Why it was rejected may be helpful to you in writing future grants.

Selection Criteria

(as outlined in a typical U.S. Department of Education RFP)

The request for proposal (RFP) offers the following advice on writing the program narrative: "While there is no standard outline for a program narrative, applicants are encouraged to prepare the program narrative by addressing the criteria listed. Please note that the narrative portion of the application should not exceed 15 double-spaced, typed, pages. The total application should not exceed 25 pages, including appendices and letters of support.

    1. Meeting the purposes of the authorizing statute (30 points)
      • The objectives of the project
      • How the objectives of the project further thepurposes of the authorizing statute
    2. Extent of need for the project (25 points)
      • The needs addressed by the project
      • How the applicant identified those needs
      • How those needs will be met by the project
      • The benefits to be gained by meeting those needs
    3. Plan of Operation (15 points)
      • The quality of the design of the project
      • The extent to which the plan of management is effective and ensures proper and efficient administration of the project.
      • How well the objectives of the project relate to the purpose of the program
      • The quality of the applicants plan to use its resources and personnel to achieve each Þ objective
      • How the applicant will ensure that project participants who are otherwise eligible to participate are selected without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, age or handicapping condition; and
      • for grants under a program that requires the applicant to provide an opportunity for participation of students enrolled in private schools, the quality of the applicants plant to provide that opportunity.
    4. Quality of key personnel (7 points)
      • Quality of key personnel
        • Qualification of project director
        • Qualification of other key personnel
        • Time that each person will commit to project
        • How the applicant, as part of its nondiscriminatory employment practices, will ensure that its personnel are selected without regard to race, color, national origin, gender, age or handicapping condition.
      • To determine qualifications above, secretary considers
        • experience and training in fields related to objectives of the project.
        • any other qualifications that pertain to the quality of the project.
    5. Budget and cost effectiveness (5 points)
      • The budget is adequate to support the project
      • Costs are reasonable in relation to the objectives of the project
    6. Evaluation Plan (15 points)
      • Extent to which methods are appropriate to the project
      • To extent possible, methods are objective and produce data that are quantifiable.
    7. Adequacy of resources (3 points)

Adequacy of resources that the applicant plans to devote to the project, including facilities, equipment, and supplies. (Includes 15 extra discretionary points added to a base of 85, which were distributed as follows: 5 to need; 10 to evaluation)

It should be noted that the evaluation plan garners 15 points in the example above. Most grantors of funds insist upon a good evaluation design. Some agencies even provide extensive information on the types of evaluation that will be accepted and include research designs that they consider effective for the types of projects that they fund. In addition, make sure to include an adequate amount of funding to implement the evaluation including instrument development time, site visits, travel expenses, statistical evaluation and writing the final report. The entire design should be included with the proposal so that the readers can see how the evaluation will determine the effectiveness of the program and the students' level of learning outcomes. Most funders also want staff development, parent and community programs evaluated. It is usually wise to specify an outside evaluator to oversee the evaluation. Several of the U.S. Department of Education regional laboratories are staffed with personnel who have extensive experience in evaluation of programs using educational technologies.

from "A Technical Guide to Teleconferencing and Distance Learning," 3rd edition