USA Funds Symposium: Creating Momentum to Get Your Ideas Funded and Implemented

How can an idea for enhancing student success in higher education go from the drawing board to implementation and garner the funding necessary for success? 

Members of The Links, Incorporated, and program partners provided answers from a real-life example during the 2013 USA Funds® Symposium.
The Links, Incorporated, a national service organization of 12,000 professional women of color, is leading a collaboration between community colleges and Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The program pairs community colleges with nearby HBCUs in five targeted states.
The goal is to increase community college and HBCU graduation rates, as well as student transfer rates to HBCUs.

Developing the idea

Dorothy Cowser Yancy, chair of the national HBCU committee of The Links, Incorporated, and president of Shaw University, said several factors made the timing of the initiative fortunate. She noted that President Obama had just announced his 2020 college attainment goal; she had been asked to chair The Links, Incorporated, HBCU committee; and the panel was looking for a signature program with the potential for long-term impact.
To get the committee established and move the project forward, Yancy said she used her network of contacts among college presidents and others.
 “Once you get the people you want to work with, you’ve got to figure out how to sell your idea,” Yancy reported.
She turned to her colleague on The Links, Incorporated, HBCU committee, Jacquelyn Madry-Taylor, to draft a white paper on the initiative to share with potential funders.
Yancy said potential funding organizations were an important source of advice in helping the committee refine its proposal. “We had too many states. Our dream was too big. We had to look at the metrics, how we’re going to assess it,” she said.
Yancy said keys to success of The Links, Incorporated, proposal included having a track record of winning grants in the past and being able to demonstrate that the project was going to be sustainable. “How can you put together a model that can be replicated and spread? We wanted it to spread to a lot of other schools,” she said.
Madry-Taylor noted that, before the committee could approach funders, it had to sell the project to the membership of The Links, Incorporated. Madry-Taylor is co-chair of the national HBCU committee of The Links, Incorporated, and senior adviser for research at UNCF Special Programs.
She said the scope of the project was a compelling factor.
“By setting up a model like this, we’re showing the nation we can take a national problem and address it from a community-based organization that has joined forces with the higher education institutions, community colleges and HBCUs, other education partners, and our many chapters of The Links to make this happen,” Madry-Taylor reported.
She also advised that it’s important to find a champion for your project within a potential funding organization and to demonstrate a previous record of success.

Local support

Joyce Lanier, president of the James River Valley Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, also is a member of the national HBCU committee of The Links, Incorporated. She noted that members of her chapter and other Richmond, Va.-area chapters provided hands-on support to make the partnership between J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and Virginia Union University a success.
Lanier reported that representatives of the two schools and The Links, Incorporated, chapter:
  • Formed a governance team for the initiative.
  • Helped develop student recruitment and application materials that included a Web page about the collaboration.
  • Supported orientation sessions for participating students.
  • Serve as mentors to the students and their family members.
“Many students at J. Sargeant Reynolds told us they would like to go to a four-year institution, but they don’t have the confidence to go to a large university,” Lanier reported. “They felt they needed a smaller, nurturing environment. This gives them an option they didn’t have before.”

Kentucky partnership

The presidents of two Kentucky postsecondary institutions that are paired under the initiative noted that it offered an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships between them. Augusta Julian, president of Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Lexington, Ky., and Mary Evans Sias, president of Kentucky State University, Frankfort, Ky., agreed that the fact the two institutions already had a relationship made the decision to participate in The Links, Incorporated, program easy to make.

“Many of the students who come to us as a community college, they don’t necessarily see the future for themselves that we see for them,” Julian said. “If we can say, "‘Here is a way, here is support, here are mentors, and these are the people who can show you what you can do,’ this kind of clarity of vision and support that these students need is really the most important thing we have to offer.”

Sias said if her university were going to increase the number of students it retained and graduated, it would need more community college transfer students.

“This was an answer to a prayer,” Sias said. “We knew we had to do something. What wasn’t there was the funding. We needed people with vision who were willing to take a risk. Apples never grow close to the trunk of a tree; they always grow out on a limb.”

The session presentation is available from the USA Funds website.