What’s Better for Higher Education: Grants vs. Cooperative Agreements?

Higher education institutions today face complex financial challenges. Securing reasonable funding amid economic uncertainty and concerns about enrollment is increasing the need for soliciting grants and cooperative agreements as funding mechanisms. While both mechanisms serve to support higher education goals, they differ in their procurement processes and sponsor involvement.

Grants are typically awarded based on competitive proposals and provide financial support without substantial oversight from those providing the funding. In contrast, cooperative agreements involve a greater degree of collaboration, working together with the sponsor who is actively participating in the project’s execution.

Procurement plays a vital role in the effective use of these funds. It ensures that institutions not only obtain the necessary resources but also do so in a way that aligns with the goals of the grant or cooperative agreement.

Grants vs. Cooperative Agreements

When comparing higher education cooperative agreements vs. grants, there are some key differences.



Cooperative Agreements


Financial support without substantial sponsor involvement

Financial support with substantial sponsor involvement

Procurement Process

Competitive bidding, often with less oversight

More collaborative process, with agency involvement in the performance


Generally more flexible, with fewer compliance requirements

Less flexible, with specific conditions and expectations

Administrative Costs

Lower due to less oversight

Higher due to active management and collaboration

Use Cases

Research, educational projects, infrastructure

Joint research projects, shared resources, collaborative initiatives

Involvement of Cooperative Purchasing Agencies

Can aggregate purchasing to simplify the process

Can offer ready-to-use contracts and assist with compliance


Grants are designed to provide financial support to higher education institutions with the expectation of minimal intervention or oversight from the funding agency. They are ideal for projects where the institution has the expertise to carry out the project independently.

Cooperative agreements, on the other hand, are structured to facilitate a partnership between the funding agency and the institution. The agency provides financial support but also plays an active role in the project, often contributing expertise, resources, or personnel.

Procurement Process

The procurement process for grants typically involves competitive bidding, where institutions submit proposals outlining their projects. The funding agency reviews these proposals and awards grants based on merit, potential impact, and alignment with their objectives. Oversight is usually limited to ensuring funds are used appropriately.

In contrast, cooperative agreements require a more collaborative procurement process. The funding agency is involved in the execution of the project, often requiring regular updates and sometimes having a say in project decisions. This close collaboration ensures that the project aligns with the agency’s mission and goals.


Grants offer greater flexibility to institutions, allowing them to adapt their projects as needed without seeking approval for every change. This autonomy can lead to innovative approaches and solutions.

Cooperative agreements are often less flexible, with more stringent conditions and expectations set by the funding agency. Institutions must adhere to these conditions, which can include specific milestones, reporting requirements, and project outcomes.

Administrative Costs

With grants, administrative costs are generally lower because there is less oversight required from the funding agency. Institutions can focus more resources on the project itself rather than on managing the relationship with the sponsor.

For cooperative agreements, administrative costs are higher due to the need for active management and collaboration. This includes costs associated with coordination, communication, and compliance with the funding agency’s requirements.

Use Cases

Grants are commonly used for research, educational projects, and infrastructure development. They provide the necessary funds while allowing institutions the freedom to execute their projects independently.

Cooperative agreements are suited for joint research projects, shared resources, and collaborative initiatives. They are used when the project’s success depends on the combined efforts and expertise of both the institution and the funding agency.

Involvement of Cooperative Purchasing Agencies

With grants, cooperative purchasing agencies can help institutions spend their grant money through simplified procurement. They can leverage collective buying power to secure better pricing and terms.

For cooperative agreements, these agencies can offer ready-to-use contracts and assist institutions with compliance. They help ensure that the collaborative nature of the project is maintained while adhering to procurement regulations.

Grants vs. Cooperative Agreements in Procurement

Most grants and cooperative agreements for funding require oversight to ensure cost-effective spending. Cooperative purchasing agreements can help to minimize costs while streamlining the procurement process.

E&I Cooperative Services is the only member-owned, non-profit sourcing cooperative that is exclusively focused on the education community. Combining the bulk purchasing power of its 6,000 member institutions, E&I Cooperative Services is uniquely positioned to help you fulfill your cooperative agreements, optimizing your procurement process.

When considering higher education cooperative agreements vs grants, let the procurement professionals at E&I Cooperative Services help. Connect with a dedicated E&I rep for your higher education institution today.


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