Proposal Writing and Sources of Funding
in Distance Education
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 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
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
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
- You will be writing up to the end of the
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- conduct in-depth interviews with teachers
and administrators to determine factors leading to adoption of
- conduct in-depth interviews with non-involved
teachers to determine how they feel about distance education
- 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.
- Conducting classroom research may first
involve interesting and training teachers in conducting classroom
research and research techniques.
- 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,
- 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?
- 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.
- 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
(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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- To determine qualifications above, secretary
- experience and training in fields related
to objectives of the project.
- any other qualifications that pertain
to the quality of the project.
- Budget and cost effectiveness (5 points)
- The budget is adequate to support the
- Costs are reasonable in relation to the
objectives of the project
- 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.
- 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
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