top of page

Postsecondary Student Success Program Grantwriting: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

By: Patricia Moore Shaffer

Principal & CEO

The Postsecondary Student Success Program (PSSP) grant, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, aims to support initiatives that improve student outcomes and success in institutions of higher education (IHE).

The purpose of this program is to equitably improve postsecondary student outcomes, including retention, transfer (including successful transfer of completed credits), credit accumulation, and completion, by leveraging data and implementing, scaling, and rigorously evaluating evidence-based activities to support data-driven decisions and actions by institutional leaders committed to inclusive student success.

To successfully apply for this grant, institutions should follow a step-by-step process that includes careful planning, thorough research, effective proposal writing, and meeting the evaluation requirements.


Step 1: Understand the Grant Program

Before starting the application process, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the Postsecondary Student Success Program grant program. Review the program's guidelines, objectives, and eligibility criteria.

Familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and priorities outlined by the U.S. Department of Education, including the evaluation requirements. Visit the Department of Education program page for easy access to these materials.

Step 2: Identify Institutional Needs

Identify the areas within your institution that require improvement and align with the grant program's objectives. Conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to determine the specific challenges faced by your institution and collect data and evidence to substantiate these needs. This may include student enrollment and retention rates, graduation rates, student satisfaction surveys, and any other information that demonstrates the need for the proposed activities.

Step 3: Develop a Project Plan

Based on the identified needs, develop a plan that outlines the project's goals and objectives, and identifies the strategies and activities you propose to implement. Ensure that your plan aligns with the grant program's objectives and priorities.

For instance, if your institution aims to enhance student advising and support services, your project plan may include the implementation of a comprehensive advising program, peer mentoring initiatives, and academic support resources.

At this step, your institution should also decide whether it is best positioned to seek an early-phase or mid-phase/expansion grant. Early-phase grants provide funding to IHEs to develop, implement, and test the feasibility of a program that prior research suggests is likely to improve relevant outcomes, for the purpose of determining whether an initiative improves student retention and completion of postsecondary students.

Mid-phase or expansion grants are supported by moderate or strong evidence and provide funding to IHEs to improve and/or expand initiatives and practices that have been proven to be effective in increasing postsecondary student retention and completion.

Step 4: Evaluation Plan

Develop a comprehensive evaluation plan that outlines how you will measure the success and impact of your project. For this grant application, there are expectations of rigor for the evaluation design.

The evaluation plan will be judged on its ability to produce evidence about the project’s effectiveness that would meet the What Works Clearinghouse standards with or without reservations while also providing performance feedback and permitting periodic assessment of progress toward achieving intended outcomes.

Evaluation plans for mid-phase grant applications also must demonstrate the extent to which the evaluation will provide guidance about effective strategies suitable for replication or testing in other settings.

Step 5: Budget Preparation

Prepare a detailed budget that clearly outlines the costs associated with your proposed activities. Ensure that your budget aligns with the grant program's guidelines and restrictions.

Provide a breakdown of expenses, including personnel, equipment, supplies, and any other necessary resources. Justify each expense and demonstrate how it directly contributes to achieving the project's objectives.

Step 6: Proposal Writing

Write a compelling and well-structured proposal that clearly articulates your institution's needs, project plan, and expected outcomes. Address each component of the grant application, including the abstract, absolute priority, significance, project design, project personnel, management plan/budget, and evaluation plan (see Step 4).

The mid-phase application also requires a description of the program scaling strategy. Use clear and concise language, provide evidence to support your claims, and adhere to the specified word limits.

Step 7: Review and Revise:

Before submitting your application, carefully review and revise your proposal. Ensure that it is free from grammatical errors, typos, and inconsistencies. Seek feedback from colleagues or experts in grant writing to improve the clarity and coherence of your proposal. Make any necessary revisions to strengthen your application.

Step 8: Submit the Application:

Once you have completed all the necessary steps and reviewed your application, it is time to submit it. Follow the instructions provided by the grant program for submitting your application. Ensure that you meet all the deadlines and include all the required documents and attachments.


Writing a successful Postsecondary Student Success Program grant application requires careful planning, thorough research, effective proposal writing, and meeting the rigorous evaluation requirements.

By following this step-by-step process, institutions can increase their chances of securing funding to implement innovative strategies that enhance student success in postsecondary education. Remember to align your proposal with the grant program's objectives, provide compelling evidence, and develop a comprehensive evaluation plan that measures the impact of your project. With dedication and attention to detail, institutions can create a strong application that demonstrates their commitment to improving student outcomes and success.

Shaffer Evaluation Group welcomes the opportunity to partner with your institution on this grant opportunity. Once you have a draft project plan in hand, reach out to us for assistance with the evaluation plan.


bottom of page