Community Facilities Grants: Insights from Two Rural Community Colleges



Strengthening Rural Community Colleges

August 12, 2022

In July 2022, we focused on Community Facilities Grants and were able to learn about these opportunities during our monthly webinar. During our Peer Learning Network discussion, we had the opportunity to learn from two rural community colleges that were grant recipients of community facilities grants, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College and Colby Community College. We were joined by DeAnnia Clements, President at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, Michelle Warren, Grants Specialist at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College, and Dr. Tiffany Evans, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Colby Community College.

The Community Facilities Grants Program provides affordable funding to develop essential community facilities in rural areas and is a program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Rural Development. According to the USDA, an essential community facility is defined as a facility that provides an essential service to the local community for the orderly development of the community in a primarily rural area, and does not include private, commercial or business undertakings. Additionally, applicants must be eligible for grant assistance, which is provided on a graduated scale with smaller communities with the lowest median household income being eligible for projects with a higher proportion of grant funds.

Wiregrass Georgia Technical College

Wiregrass Georgia Technical College (WGTC) is a two-year technical college located in the heart of South Georgia serving 11 counties with four campuses and serves about 4,200 students. WGTC has a mission which is primarily workforce development and ensuring that the students can enter a career immediately after completing their studies equipped with a technical certificate of credit, a diploma, or an Associate’s Degree.

WGTC was the recipient of three Community Facilities Grants to help support their programs. WGTC sought additional funding to help extend their science, technology, and manufacturing courses that they have on their campuses. The first grant was for $25,000 and supported the larger project to furnish a biology classroom and lab which totaled $200,000. Over the past several years, there's been a lot of attention to increasing the talent of those that are in science and the medical field while addressing sustainability. WGTC realized that although their larger campus had a biology lab, their smaller campuses did not. Therefore, providing the necessary biology lab equipment would allow them to attract women and marginalized individuals, who are underrepresented, into STEM careers.

The second project at WGTC that received a Community Facilities Grant was to purchase three pieces of equipment for WGTC’s automotive technology program which has been on WGTC’s campus since 1970. It was estimated that some of the older equipment for the program had been their equally as long and was in need for an update. Through the grant, WGTC was able to purchase a fully automatic power changer machine, a frontend alignment rack, and an alignment machine. This brought their program to a modern space and allowed students to be trained on the same type of equipment that they would utilize in the field when they began their career. The total cost for the equipment was $33,000 and the grant that WGTC was awarded was $11,600.

The third project that benefited from a Community Facilities Grant at WGTC was for their Mechatronics program. WGTC received a $25,000 grant and matched $32,000 to purchase three Mechatronics training systems that were housed at the early county school system that is a part of their dual enrollment program. This grant allowed WGTC to provide access to new STEM related courses, specifically Mechatronics in South Georgia.

Additionally, upon receiving each grant WGTC ensured that they were able to train, document, and track the equipment. Since each grant was funded for five years, WGTC needed to also track and maintain the equipment for reporting on the grant. The grants team at WGTC was able to create a system of tracking and reporting for the equipment that was purchased through the Community Facilities Grants. This permitted WGTC to understand where any equipment was located at any time, especially if it was relocated to a different room/campus.

Colby Community College

Located in the northwest corner of Kansas, approximately 50 miles from the Colorado and Nebraska borders, Colby Community College serves about 2,400 students across 14 counties and has the highest graduation rates among all Kansas community colleges. The signature programs at Colby include various agricultural programs and the health sciences.

Colby Community College did not receive a Community Facilities Grant, but instead received a Rural Postsecondary Economic Development Grant through the Department of Education, which allowed Colby to support their community facilities. Colby received $1.3 million to support their agricultural programs and facilities. In applying for the grant, Colby found that there was this perception of a lack of appropriate agricultural education in Northwest Kansas available to students. A part of the grant allowed Colby to share their programs with their community and engage the community to gain a better understanding of the programs that they wanted and needed. Additionally, in their community Colby found that individuals that were working on a family farm perceived that they did not need higher education. This caused Colby to pause to get a better understanding of how they were partnering with local businesses and industry to have a deeper connection with the community and students. Essentially, Colby was determined to be the conduit between students and jobs while being a visible partner in the community.

Through the grant funding, Colby was able to support students by providing various types of technology to stay connected to their studies. The grant afforded Colby the opportunity of additional grant funds and a new state-of the-art agricultural building on their campus. This facility will provide many opportunities for students and people that are within the community’s workforce.

Lessons Learned

Through their grant writing, WGTC has learned that it is very beneficial for faculty to keep a “wish list” for items that they need. These lists allow WGTC to have a specific focus when they are securing grant funding for their institution and makes the grant writing process easier for the grant writers. Additionally, being responsive to the needs of the community is essential to being able to set your institution apart from others and make your students more successful in the industry. Especially for small scale projects, it is critical to have buy-in from the faculty which can truly transform a given program.

Colby found that if you have a need and can articulate your need when applying for grants, that it always good to “dream big”. While you might not be able to get everything you want in terms of funding, it is beneficial to always ask because there is a chance of getting additional funding. Also, a key piece of advice that was shared was to ensure that you keep everything, record everything, and be more organized than what your accustomed. The documentation will help your grants team when they need to submit their quarterly deliverable reports and will help show progression and impact of the grant funding.

Furthermore, in reflecting on their projects, Colby and WGTC stated that it is important to get your partnership letters early in the application process. Additionally, having better communication once the grant is funded to ensure that your institution can track any grant funded equipment and the faculty have an understanding on using the equipment.

About Author: Sean Robins is the Policy Associate at the Association of Community College Trustees leading the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges Initiative to convene rural community college leaders while providing technical support, assistance, and resources on federal policy and advocacy. This initiative builds on ACCT’s prior work through the Strengthening Rural Community Colleges report that engaged rural community college presidents and trustees to gather information about the challenges faced by these institutions.

About ACCT

The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) is a non-profit educational organization of governing boards, representing more than 6,500 elected and appointed trustees who govern over 1,200 community, technical, and junior colleges in the United States and beyond. For more information, go to Follow ACCT on Twitter @CCTrustees.