Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program

Funding Agency:
US Department of Agriculture

NIFA requests applications for the Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program for fiscal year (FY) 2019 to enable colleges and universities to provide the quality of education necessary to produce baccalaureate or higher degree level graduates capable of strengthening the nation’s food and agricultural scientific and professional workforce. The anticipated amount available for grants in FY 2019 is approximately $4.5 million.

Applications submitted to this grants program must state how the funded project will address the HEC Program Goals: 1. To enhance the quality of instruction for baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees, and first professional degrees in veterinary sciences, in order to help meet current and future workforce needs in the food, agricultural, natural resources, and human (FANH) sciences. 2. To increase the number and diversity of students who will pursue and complete a postsecondary degree in the FANH sciences.

HEC is a NIFA-administered competitive grants program focused on improving formal, baccalaureate, or master’s degree level FANH sciences education, and first professional degreelevel education in veterinary medicine (DVM). HEC projects provide funding to eligible applicants to help ensure a competent, qualified and diverse workforce will exist to serve the FANH sciences system. At the same time, HEC-funded projects improve the economic health and viability of communities through the development of degree programs emphasizing new and emerging employment opportunities. Finally, HEC projects address the national challenge to increase the number and diversity of students entering the FANH sciences (i.e., having a FANH sciences workforce representative of the nation’s population).

The HEC projects are expected to: (a) produce measurable impacts aligned with HEC program goals, (b) promote innovative, educational practices within the FANH sciences that improve how students learn, and (c) include a rigorous evaluation component to assess that project outcomes are met. Institutions must demonstrate capacity for, and a significant ongoing commitment to, the teaching of food, agricultural and human sciences generally, and to the specific need and/or discipline(s) for which a grant is requested. Projects should encourage academic institutions, in partnership with organizations and employers, to work collectively to identify and address a state or regional challenge or opportunity facing the FANH sciences education and workforce community. Additionally, projects should encourage broad participation of students traditionally underrepresented in the FANH sciences. An application must convince a peer panel of a compelling educational challenge; clearly indicate how the methodology is both unique and with merit; offer significant promise of adoption by others; and include a plan for how the project impacts will be sustained once grant funds end.

Duplicate or Multiple Submissions – duplicate or multiple submissions is not allowed. NIFA will disqualify both applications if an applicant submits duplicate or multiple submissions.


  • Duke Internal: Interested applicants should contact Paul Noe as early as possible
  • FY 2020: March 23, 2020
  • FY 2021: March 24, 2021 

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Applicants for the HEC must meet all the requirements discussed in this RFA. Applications may be submitted by: (a) U.S. public or private nonprofit colleges and universities offering a baccalaureate or first professional degree in at least one discipline or area of the FANH sciences; (b) land-grant colleges and universities, (including land grant institutions in the Insular Areas); (c) colleges and universities having significant minority enrollments and a demonstrable capacity to carry out the teaching of food and agricultural sciences; and (d) other colleges and universities having a demonstrable capacity to carry out the teaching of food and agricultural sciences. 

Amount Description

The anticipated amount available for HEC in FY 2020 and FY 2021 is approximately $4,500,000 each year. USDA is not committed to fund any particular application or to make a specific number of awards. This RFA is being released prior to the passage of an appropriations act for FY 2020 and FY 2021.

Funding Type





Curriculum Development
Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental & Life Sciences
Social Sciences

External Deadline

March 23, 2020