Question: What kind of impact does an "extra" $20 million a year have on East Central University, the Ada community and beyond?
Answer: A lot. That $20 million represents money ECU will receive during the 2009 fiscal year from grants and other external funding, not including donations.
"The grants and contracts we receive provide on average nearly 75 full-time jobs that contribute about $3 million to the economy, as well as several part-time jobs that provide an additional $1 million" said C.J. Vires, ECU associate vice president for sponsored programs and research.
In fact, that $20 million in external funding is more than ECU receives annually from state funds ($18.8 million in fiscal year 2009) - making ECU one of the nation's leaders in grant receipts when compared to similar institutions.
The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System's (IPEDS) current rankings list ECU second in the country in the amount of government grants received by public institutions with an average of 3,000 to 4,000 undergraduates and 100 to 1,000 graduate students.
This data does not include institutions which are considered health, medical or engineering schools or are historically black colleges.
However, this data is based on 2006 figures and ECU has increased its grants production by $5 million just over the last year.
"The current data placed ECU second a few years ago, but we could well be first in 2009, given our huge growth in grant production since that time," said Dr. Richard Rafes, president of ECU.
Rafes said challenges in state funding have become a current theme in Oklahoma and across the country, requiring institutions to find more of their own funding.
"This has put considerable pressure on us to think differently about funding higher education," he said. "Fortunately, ECU consistently exceeds the external funding levels of our peer institutions in Oklahoma and nationwide. I am very proud and appreciative of our faculty, staff and the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research for their work to find, apply for and secure these grants and contracts.
"We would not be able to provide many academic enhancements, cultural events or other activities without this funding," Rafes said.
Vires noted that the $20 million in external funding advances the mission and vision of ECU, aids economic development for the area and impacts public school teachers and students as well as employers who hire ECU graduates.
"There are 75 to 90 grant projects in operation on an annual basis," Vires said.
ECU has had federal TRIO program grants for a number of years: the Upward Bound Math/Science Program, the Upward Bound Program, Educational Talent Search, the Educational Opportunity Center, the McNair Scholars Program and the newest, Veterans Upward Bound.
These outreach programs motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They serve and assist low-income, first-generation college students and students with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post-baccalaureate programs. They also greatly assist veterans in reaching higher education needs.
Other major, multi-year grants that provide direct student support include the Environmental Research Apprentice Program (ERAP), the Oklahoma SURE-STEP program and the NASA Scholars Program.
Grants and contracts awarded to ECU also support the continued professional development of teachers from area public schools. ECU has worked with these schools to secure four Teaching American History Grants since 2002. The grants have provided additional educational opportunities for about 50 public school teachers in ECU's service area.
ECU faculty also have collaborated with local public schools to secure several Math and Science Partnership grants to provide professional development opportunities to well over 500 math and science teachers. Each year, ECU's Professional Development Institute provides training to about 1,800 reading teachers throughout Oklahoma.
Grants also have played an important role in workforce development - providing highly trained employees in needed professions.
"Grants secured by faculty in the nursing department have allowed ECU's nursing program to expand over the last six or seven years," Vires noted. "Grants allowed us to expand to Durant and Ardmore and increase the number of students we can admit to our on-campus programs. That is important in view of the nation's shortage of nurses."
The Tribal Policing Program has trained nearly 800 law officers from about 85 entities across Indian Country over several years, he added, and the grants office played a key role in working with the City of Ada and numerous other entities to successfully bring the CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) facility to Ada several years ago.
"Then there are the cultural opportunities that grants provide," Vires continued. "With funding from the Oklahoma Arts Council, Mid-America Arts Alliance, the National Endowment for the Arts and others, we've been able to bring programs for students and the Ada community like the St. Petersburg String Quartet and the Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago."
Two USDA grants also made possible the beginnings of the Arts District of Ada.
Even though ECU is one of the top grant recipients in the nation, Vires sees new opportunities.
"In the future, it appears that there may be growth opportunities linked to research - undergraduate research," Vires said, "because it brings together the university's historic mission students, faculty and the community."
For example, he said, more than 100 students and faculty from ECU recently attended Oklahoma Research Day to present posters highlighting the results of their undergraduate research projects.
"We have just started tapping into the power of undergraduate research," Vires said. "It fits in our historic mission as a learner-centered institution."
Vires hopes that the office can continue working with other campus administrators, faculty and staff to increase funding for undergraduate research by $3 million to $5 million over the next five years.
"About 85 percent of our grant funding is tied to programs - money that improves programs or trains people. Money to support student and faculty research makes up the remaining 15 percent. Funding tied to research presents the greatest opportunity for growth," he said.
Vires has directed ECU's successful grants program since coming to ECU in 1999.
"In 1991, Dr. Bill Cole (retired ECU president) had the entrepreneurial vision to establish a grants office to assist the university's efforts to improve the quality of experience for faculty and students by obtaining external resources not otherwise available," Vires said.
The unit was located in the Office of Academic Affairs which allowed it to focus specifically on the overall academic experience, he said. It was mainly a one-person operation run by three directors between 1991 and 1999.
During the 15 years from 1991, when ECU received about $3 million in grants, to the fall of 2006, grants increased by an average of 320 percent, Vires said.
"But growth had been maximized with the structure that was in place," he added. "In 2006, President Rafes saw the need to enhance the structure in order to sustain growth and build on the university's previous successes."
Rafes expanded the grants office into the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research, elevating the university's chief grants officer to the associate vice president of sponsored programs and research, with two additional grants research specialists and a compliance officer. Rafes also approved the expansion of the incentive and rewards program for faculty and staff who secured external funding.
The grants research specialists focus on knowing faculty interests in terms of research and student needs, identifying grants that meet those needs, and nurturing the faculty through the grant-writing process.
"With the increased amount of funding that ECU is receiving," Vires said, "a compliance officer helps ensure that funding has the maximum impact on the university, its students, faculty, staff and the community."
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