A Competitive Grant Process for the Access and Completion Incentive Fund

The proposed $2.5 billion Access and Completion Incentive Fund included in President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget is intended to promote an environment of educational innovation on college campuses so that low-income working adults can get the education they need during the times they can attend classes. The method of allocating the funds is still in development. We recommend that the proposed fund use a competitive grants process to invest in pilot programs that break institutional barriers to create a new model that we call The College for Working Adults.

The structure of the ACIF grant process should take a page from Proctor & Gamble’s “Connect and Develop” initiative, which opens up its research and development operations to scientists, suppliers, customers, and even competitors all over the world. P&G’s open-source R&D program acknowledges that innovation is a cross-disciplinary and cross-organizational process that encourages cutting-edge product development.

Similarly, the ACIF could structure its granting process to encourage nonprofit groups, businesses, and public agencies to partner with colleges to demonstrate working adults can get past classic college barriers and work-a-day hurdles to earn a college degree. So-called career pathways projects adopted by some states and communities, for example, allow working adults to transition easily between noncredit and for-credit coursework, which reduces the costs of education. So, too, would co-registration between community-based programs and community colleges through co-registration. These are the kinds of new ideas that could emerge from an innovative competitive-grants process.

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