NSF EPIIC Funds Community Colleges Capacity Building and Innovation

NSF EPIIC is new federal funding for community college partnerships that build colleges' capacity for emerging technology job training.
Blog Post
NSF EPIIC is new federal funding for community college partnerships that build institutional capacity for emerging technology job training.
Feb. 15, 2024

This article was produced as part of New America's Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy. Share this article and your thoughts with us on Twitter/X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and subscribe to our Future of Work Updates & Events newsletter to stay current on our latest.

Community colleges are critical for America to build an inclusive innovation economy and ensure that public investments in emerging technology leadership lead to a renewal of the hollowed-out middle-class.

Recognizing that fact, the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships Directorate launched the Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity (EPIIC) grant funding program. The funding was made possible by the CHIPS & Science Act of 2022.

EPIIC is new funding for partnerships that build the capacity of community colleges, minority-serving institutions, and emerging research universities to support technology-based economic development and to gain experience winning and managing NSF grants.

Colleges can win up to $400,000 to partner with research universities, industry, and other R&D-focused organizations. The partnerships should promote career pathways that relate to emerging technology fields.

Since launching in 2022, NSF EPIIC has made ninety-six grant awards. Forty-four awards are cooperative agreements, and fifty-two are standard grant awards. That is noteworthy because cooperative agreements allow NSF to have more direct involvement and closer partnership and collaboration with the recipients. Standard awards provide financial support with less direct involvement from NSF.

With a cooperative agreement award format, NSF provides both funding and strategic insights to support project implementation. That's a value-add for community colleges new to NSF grants.

How Community Colleges are Using NSF EPIIC Funding

Across the country, community colleges are using the funding to address the needs of employers and the local labor market in emerging technology sectors.

Montgomery College in Maryland is part of a coalition led by Hobart and William Smith College, along with the University of Maine at Farmington, Albany College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences, Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology, and Ohio Wesleyan University.

The partners will enact institutional processes to deepen their relationships with industry experts and government agencies. Montgomery College will especially focus on understanding the skills their students need to have to be competitive in biotechnology.

Montgomery's EPIIC grant allows it to curate their curriculum to align with industry needs, create an industry-focused mentoring program, upskill faculty on new material, and create a new certificate program in biotechnology theory.

In Ilinois, William Rainey Harper College's Innovation Accelerator, a unit focused on emerging technology workforce training, is using its EPIIC grant to lead a consortium of five colleges comprised of Ivy Tech Community College, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Washburn University Institute of Technology, and WSU Tech to build the capacity of the colleges to improve employer partnerships.

Most community colleges have advisory committees, but the effectiveness of the committees varies greatly. Harper and its consortia will adopt the nationally recognized Business and Industry Leadership (BILT) advisory committee format. It will also modernize its data systems to track employer engagement.

It is the early days of NSF's EPIIC program. These are only a few examples of the avenues community college leaders can take when applying for EPIIC grant funding.

Tips for Preparing an NSF EPIIC Grant Application

Focus your EPIIC grant on meeting emerging technology labor market needs

Applicants must position themselves at the forefront of emerging technology workforce development and as active collaborators in a larger “innovation ecosystem.”

The first thing community colleges should know is that EPIIC proposals must be rooted in a project supporting career development for emerging technology areas, particularly the ten areas Congress outlined in the CHIPS and Science Act. They are:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • High-Performance Computing & Semiconductors
  • Quantum Science and Technology
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Disaster Prevention
  • Advanced Communications Technology
  • Cybersecurity
  • Biotechnology
  • Advanced Energy Technology & Efficiency
  • Material Science

Colleges can also pursue federal funding from other sources to support STEM education in non-emerging technology areas, such as NSF’s Advanced Technological Education program of the Economic Development Administration’s STEM Talent Challenge grants.

Make sure you have the right partners

There is a reason why NSF put “partnerships” in the name of the “Enabling Partnerships to Increase Innovation Capacity” grant program.

It is imperative that community colleges substantively involve partners to formulate a cohesive and competitive grant proposal that can effectively meet emerging technology workforce development needs. Community colleges may bring student success, equity, and workforce development expertise to the table, but most will need outside help to understand the specific skill and job training needs and the employer networks in play for emerging technology areas.

Colleges should name partners in their proposals that can address specific needs. Ideally, colleges would present NSF with evidence that the partners are committed by including examples of past partnerships, press releases or third-party validation of the relationship, letters of commitment, or other proof points that explain why the partnership makes sense.

Finding experts in emerging technologies can be difficult, depending on the region. A few ideas for partners in the region include:

  1. Research universities, including their offices, focused on economic development, technology transfer, research parks, startup incubators, industry relations, and community engagement.
  2. ManufacturingUSA Institutes or Manufacturing Extension Partnerships
  3. National laboratories or other federally funded research and development centers
  4. Economic development or technology-based economic development organizations
  5. State and local government agencies or officials
  6. Labor unions, especially those focused on emerging technologies, including AI
  7. Industry associations (e.g., Georgia Bio or state manufacturing associations)
  8. Chambers of commerce, including minority-serving chambers
  9. Large employers with a vested interest in workforce training for emerging technologies

Be specific about how EPIIC money can address your needs and how it will lead to lasting change

EPIIC can cover many costs community colleges may incur when forming partnerships, ranging from upskilling faculty and recruiting instructors, creating new industry advisory committees, inventorying and refining institutional processes and procedures, conducting labor market analyses, developing a student recruitment strategy for new programs, organizing community workshops and town halls, and a number of other needs.

Colleges should articulate how exactly EPIIC funds will meet their institution’s unique needs, how partnerships will be involved in the proposed work, and how the college would sustain the impact of the grant after the award period is finished.

Colleges should see their EPIIC application as a “capacity building” grant rather than a program-delivery grant. Future blogs in our series will address this topic in more detail.

Colleges interested in NSF EPIIC are encouraged to join New America's session at the 2024 ARIS Summit.
Source: Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS)

New America EPIIC Resources and Upcoming Workshop

New America’s Initiative on the Future of Work and the Innovation Economy tracks, monitors, and supports community college pathways to emerging technology fields and the future of work.

We will be hosting a session titled “Strengthening Community College Partnerships & Pathways for Good Jobs in the Innovation Economy” during the Advancing Research Impact in Society (ARIS) 2024 Summit on April 4, 2024, in Omaha, Nebraska.

ARIS has partnered with the NSF and the National Organization of Research Development Professionals to support EPIIC applicants in refining their proposals and facilitating networking with to increase their competitiveness for awards. ARIS has special expertise in helping applicants articulate their proposal’s broader impacts, a key component of NSF grants. During the Summit, New America will complement ARIS’ efforts with this special session focused on supporting community colleges. 2-year institutions are eligible for a discounted conference rate.

“Community Colleges are an important part of the STEM workforce ecosystem, and ARIS is excited to partner with New America on this vital work,” said Susan Renoe, Executive Director of ARIS, who also serves as Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Development & Strategic Partnerships at the University of Missouri.

Community college applicants seeking advice on their EPIIC application are welcome to contact New America’s Shalin Jyotishi for more information on the workshop and other resources to support community colleges in emerging technology workforce development.

Colleges are also encouraged to subscribe to New America’s Future of Work newsletter for more resources and opportunities. Stay tuned for more blogs from us on NSF EPIIC in the coming months.

Related Topics
Workforce Development & CTE