Tag Archives: UB

Upward Bound means more narrative confusion

The Upward Bound deadline passed, but the RFP lingers on in my mind like a foul meal.

The RFP was an extraordinary work of indirection, with 130-something pages of instructions supporting a 72-page narrative (counting “Competitive Priorities”). Upward Bound is one of the Department of Education’s “TRIO” programs—there used to be three: Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Centers, and Student Supportive Services, but now there are five or six. Another TRIO program, Educational Opportunity Centers (“EOC”), was released last May, and that RFP is particularly close to my heart because I used its “Plan of operation” section to teach my University of Arizona students technical writing. The EOC RFP was also overly long and overly verbose, but its similarity to Upward Bound meant that looking at that proposal would help me with the new one.

It also included a trap, because the Department of Education made subtle but real changes between the way they phrased requirements from one program to the other. For example, under “Project Need” in EOC, the first two major headers said something like, “Low-incomes in the target area” and “High percentage of target area residents with education completion levels below the baccalaureate level.” The UB RFP says, “The income level of families in the target area is low” and “The education attainment level of adults in the target area is low.” So an applicant who applies for both EOC and UB can reuse data—but a straight copy-paste will result in the Department of Education knowing that you’ve done so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Department of Education does this intentionally, like Van Halen and their legendary M&M Rider:

The rider’s “Munchies” section was where the group made its candy-with-a-caveat request: “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).” While the underlined rider entry has often been described as an example of rock excess, the outlandish demand of multimillionaires, the group has said the M&M provision was included to make sure that promoters had actually read its lengthy rider. If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance–lighting, staging, security, ticketing–may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.

Van Halen uses brow M&M’s as a signal, and the Department of Education is using section headers the same way. If your section headers are identical to the EOC section heads, your proposal will be thrown out altogether, or at least have its points lowered.

There are other perils stashed in this RFP, too: its writers practically hide the location of the material you’re supposed to respond to. The RFP directs you to page 102, but the actual narrative requirement in the form of the “selection criteria” to which you’re supposed to respond starts on page 70 (of a 132-page RFP). And the narrative section lists “Objectives” on page 71, but you have to be cognizant enough to know that you have to copy the objectives listed on page 93.

Read and tread carefully when preparing to write a grant proposal.

EDIT: A former Department of Education reviewer wrote us to say:

I read with interest your article on Upward Bound grants in which you spoke of “traps” by the Department of Education. You clearly are experienced and are doing a great service for fledgling grants writers. However, I have served as a reader for several TRIO programs, and my experience is that the Department of Education NEVER puts traps in their RFPs. They work very hard to see that readers are fair and generally positive about the grant process. Of course, they also want consistency to keep down on appeals. The reason that I am writing is that you are doing your readers a disservice by making them think that there is a “magic phrase” that might result in acceptance for funding or rejection of a grant. The Department of Education wants writers to address the problems in a straightforward manner and teachers readers to reward clear writing.

FY ’12 Upward Bound Draft RFP Found with $305,289,000 for New Awards — A Nice Apparition for Halloween

Subscribers to our free weekly Email Grant Alerts and faithful blog readers know that I have been predicting for a few months that the FY ’12 RFP for the Upward Bound program would be soon be issued. It’s getting there, and we now have a copy of the complete Draft FY ’12 Upward Bound RFP.

For the last several weeks, we’ve known the draft FY ’12 Upward Bound NOFA was floating in the ether, although the Department of Education didn’t seem to want to post it publicly for some unknown reason. But, after 19 years in business, we’ve got our sources and finagled a copy of the draft RFP and related docs in advance of publication.

By the time your read this, you should be able to find an announcement about Upward Bound in the October 31 Federal Register. The draft essentially provides a 30 day comment period on the Department of Education’s plan for “reinstatement of a previously approved application for grants under the Upward Bound (UB) Project (1840-0550), which has expired.” This bit of federal Doublespeak means that there have been some legislative changes since the last Upward Bound RFP process in 2007. The Department of Education needs to go through a public comment period before issuing the RFP they’ve already produced—and it will probably be in more or less the same form as the version we have.

You’ve gotta love the timing of the Department of Education performing a little prestidigitation by releasing the phantom RFP on Halloween. Boo!

I’ve paged through the 114 single-spaced page Upward Bound RFP and it looks remarkably like every other TRIO Program RFP I’ve ever seen. But the best part in the RFP is that there will be $305,289,000 for new UB awards, with an average award of $330,000/year for five years. The Department of Education is still being coy about the deadline, but let’s do some math: the 30 day comment period starts on October 31, it’ll take about 15 days or so for the program officers to examine and reject comments, and about 15 days or so to set up the next FR publication. Thus, the FY ’12 RFP should be published between Christmas and January 15. These days, most Department of Education RFPs have 30 day deadlines, so expect the deadline to be late January to mid-February.

Upward Bound will be one of the best opportunities this year to grab a pretty big Department of Education grant salmon this year. Nonprofits and institutions of higher education (IHE, which means “college or university” in Edu-speak) are eligible applicants. Upward Bound is a great way of funding academic support programs for high school students to enable them to build the skills needed to graduate from high school and thrive in the postsecondary education milieu (free proposal phrase here).

Just don’t wait for the actual RFP to be issued. Find the draft RFP, read it, and, if you think you organization could run the program, go to work on planning the project. With over $300 million up for grabs, there should be at least 1,000 grants awarded. We’ve written many funded TRIO grants, including Upward Bound, and know that the funding decisions for these programs are often the stuff of strange tales. But if your organization doesn’t get moving and submit a great, technically correct proposal, you will miss out on a twice-a-decade opportunity. It’ll take that long for the next Upward Bound bus to roll by. Get on this one.