Apr 11 2024

What Is a STOP Grant, and How Does It Apply to Higher Education?

Campuswide alert technologies and anonymous reporting tools could be funded by money allocated for school safety through the STOP School Violence Act.

The federal government responded to the changing higher education landscape in the early part of this decade by making significant grant funds available to colleges and universities to promote student safety and help institutions offer remote and hybrid instruction.

Those funds, most notably the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, expired last year, and while the cutoff was expected, the gap in funding may have left some administrators searching for additional dollars to transform university technology.

One area where higher education institutions can still tap into government funding and make the campus community safer is through the Student, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence program. Up to $2 million per institution is available through this grant, but STOP funds can be used only for specific purposes, and the grants are competitive. That means institutions must make a strong case to be awarded any money.

With the application period for STOP grant funding expected to open later this spring, let’s take a look at how institutions can best position themselves for these dollars.

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What Types of Technologies Are Covered by STOP Grants?

The STOP School Violence Act of 2018 made grant awards available for a variety of public institutions, including local and state governments, and split the available funds into two buckets: the School Violence Prevention Program and STOP. SVPP grants cover a wider range of school safety equipment, but colleges and universities are not eligible for these funds, so for our purposes, let’s focus on what STOP is intended to support.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), an office in the Department of Justice, recommends that STOP grant funds be used to provide “students and teachers with the tools they need to recognize, respond quickly to, and prevent acts of violence.”

In practice, that means STOP can be used for things like violence prevention training, technology to support anonymous reporting systems, campuswide mass notification tools and a few other things. What STOP grants notably cannot be used for is any target-hardening equipment, such as surveillance cameras, access controls and biometric tools that are nonetheless a vital part of a holistic physical security solution.

An easy way to determine whether something could be eligible for STOP funds is to ask whether a particular tool can be used to alert others to threats or school violence or to help those on campus know what’s going on if an incident occurs. Technologies that are part of a unified communication system, such as mobile text alerts or integrated messaging platforms that can take over on-campus displays, fit squarely into the framework of STOP.

RELATED: How Bowie State University developed a cohesive physical security strategy.

Best Practices for Higher Education Grant Proposals

STOP grants are awarded competitively, and regardless of whether an institution fits into Category 1 (public or state-controlled institutions of higher education) or Category 2 (private institutions of higher education), those who submit applications must have all their ducks lined up before doing so.

First and foremost, any STOP grant application should include a recently updated and comprehensive campus security plan. Reviewers will want to see how STOP funds fit into the broader plan for campus safety. For example, buying flat panel displays to mount around campus could be eligible for grant funds, but only if the applicant clearly explains how those displays will be integrated into a networked system and how managers of that system will quickly transmit messages in the case of emergency.

Universities should also demonstrate that other physical security solutions are being used and incorporated, including cameras, sensors and more. Showing that the IT team has the skill and understanding to tie those disparate pieces together will make a college more likely to be awarded funding.

Following the same theme of cohesion and collaboration, applicants must also show campuswide buy-in and input on the security plan. Those reviewing the grants will want to see that everyone — from the IT department to campus and local police, C-suite administrators, facilities management and more — has been consulted and provided input on the plan.

The bottom line is that it is incumbent on universities to show clearly what the current state of security is, where a university wants to go and, most critically, how these grant funds will help them get there. The grant application should also show a financial need, meaning a high-ranking university finance official should be part of the application as well.

Helpfully, the BJA will release an assessment rubric later this spring (likely in May) when universities can begin applying for this annual grant. When that rubric is released, smart universities will go through the grading system and craft a proposal that makes sure to touch on as many key points as possible.

To help colleges and universities navigate this process, CDW has a specialized higher education team with both the experience and expertise to earn this and other eligible grant funding. The team can offer experts in a variety of different areas, including school security specialists, to fill in any technical details and help assess whether funds are being requested for appropriate technology, before the application is submitted.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

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