You make a good point about the money available for academic projects. It seems like there are more and more student- and university-built satellites using amateur frequencies (sometimes questionably), but with no actual transponder or digipeater. Working with them to add a small transponder payload like the LTM or the Brno PSK module could be an easy way to get more bandwidth up there without a lot of overhead cost.
I also back your sentiment that AMSAT should consider applying to more grants from places like ARDC and maybe even the NSF or similar. Education is one of its main purposes, and the NSF may be open to it.