Higher Education Challenge (HEC) Grants Program

Funding Agency:
US Department of Agriculture

The purpose of the Higher Education Challenge Grants Program, under assistance listing 10.217, is to strengthen institutional capacities, including curriculum, faculty, scientific instrumentation, instruction delivery systems, and student recruitment and retention, to respond to identified state, regional, national, or international educational needs in the food and agricultural sciences, or in rural economic, community, and business development. 

HEC is a NIFA-administered competitive grants program focused on improving formal, baccalaureate, or master’s degree level food and agricultural sciences education, and first professional degree-level 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 food and agricultural 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 food and agricultural sciences (i.e., having a food and agricultural 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 food and agricultural 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 the food and agricultural 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 food and agricultural sciences education and workforce community. Additionally, projects should encourage broad participation of students traditionally underrepresented in the food and agricultural 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. 


Deadline: March 5, 2024

Agency Website

Eligibility Requirements

Applications may be submitted by: 1. 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 food and agricultural sciences; 2. land-grant colleges and universities, (including land-grant institutions in the Insular   Areas);  3. colleges and universities having significant minority enrollments and a demonstrable  capacity to carry out the teaching of food and agricultural sciences; and 4. other colleges and universities having a demonstrable capacity to carry out the teaching  of food and agricultural sciences. 

There is no limit on the number of applications that may be submitted by an applicant institution. However, each institution or group that is successful in their application will only be given two awards per year through this program. Also, each institution or organization may only receive one CG2 grant per annual HEC grant program competition. Each academic (or other) unit within the institution or organization, such as a college, school of agriculture, etc., can only have one active CG2 grant at any given time. 

Amount Description

The amount available for Higher Education Challenge Grants Program (HEC) in FY 2024 is approximately $5,055,342. USDA is not committed to fund any particular application or to make a specific number of awards.  

Funding Type





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

External Deadline

March 5, 2024