Project Grants: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 Definition
  • 0:52 Examples
  • 3:13 Criticisms of Project Grants
  • 3:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Stephen Benz

Stephen has taught history, journalism, sociology, and political science courses at multiple levels, including the middle school, high school and college levels. He has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Expert Contributor
Jeffrey Perry

Jeffrey Perry earned his Ph.D. in History from Purdue University and has taught History courses at private and state institutions of higher education since 2012.

Project grants are like scholarship competitions. They give out federal money to states, localities, and individuals based on merit. We look at some examples in this lesson.


To understand a project grant, think of a scholarship competition. In a scholarship competition, students submit applications for university scholarships and try to highlight how good they are at something, like academics or sports. The most worthy applicants receive funding, while others may not receive any funding at all.

This same concept applies to project grants. State and local governments and even individuals submit their applications to the federal government asking for government help. The applications are then scored based upon certain criteria, and the winners of the grant are announced.

Project grants are a type of categorical grant. Projects are grants given by the federal government to state and local governments on the basis of merit. The other type of categorical grant is a formula grant. These grants, rather than being based on merit, are distributed to all states according to a formula.


An example of a project grant was the Department of Education's Race to the Top. In this program, different states submitted applications for up to $4 billion in supplemental education money. The states had to demonstrate their ability to hire great teachers and leaders, improve student achievement, improve state standards, improve charter school offerings and performance, turn around low-achieving schools, and improve instruction with data. Based on their applications, states could be scored up to 500 points.

In the first round of applications for Race to the Top grants, the states of Delaware and Tennessee were deemed to show the highest improvement in these educational categories. Consequently, Delaware was awarded $100 million and Tennessee was awarded $500 million. Many people criticized the inconsistency in scoring, and some states declined to participate in the project grant further. Indeed, many don't really think of Tennessee and Delaware as having the best education programs in the country. In subsequent rounds, other states won smaller awards. Nonetheless, the Race to Top project grant illustrates how the competitive grant process can draw criticism for being inconsistent or unfair.

Another type of federal project grant you may have heard of is the Federal Pell Grant system. This grant is given to students who meet income requirements and have not yet earned a bachelor's degree. The grants do not have to be repaid. Around five million university students are annually awarded Pell grants of up to $5,000.

Another major type of project grant is the National Endowment for the Humanities. This project grant gives grants to individuals and institutions to provide funding for further study and/or research in humanistic research. In 2014, the U.S. government allocated $146 million towards the National Endowment for Humanities.

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Additional Activities

Group Discussion for Project Grants

  • Imagine you and your classmates are in charge of a philanthropic organization. The organization has a large endowment of funds that you are supposed to distribute to educational institutions throughout your community. This is a new organization, and the grant project has just been instituted. With your classmates, discuss what kind of project grants you will consider. Should you make these grants categorical or formulaic? What are the benefits and pitfalls of each approach?
  • The federal government is a large provider of grants that fund diverse projects from the humanities to the sciences. Discuss with your classmates whether or not you believe this is a good use of federal funds. Some theorists, such as John Locke, argue that government's sole responsibility is to protect citizens' lives, liberties, and property. Others claim that the government's responsibility is provide for the general welfare more broadly. The goal of this discussion is to think critically about the role of the federal government, the scope of its responsibilities, and its obligation to its citizens.

Additional Questions to Consider

  • If you are a student researching fossil fuel alternatives and desire funding, what national organization might you apply to for a project grant?
  • If you are a high school student who hopes to attend college but come from a low-income family, for what grant may you apply?

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