Foundation Funding for Higher Ed Focused on Access, Career Readiness

Foundation Funding for Higher Ed Focused on Access, Career Readiness

The top priority for private foundations that provide support for higher education is access and success for disadvantaged students, a report from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the TIAA Institute finds.

Based on a survey of Grantmakers for Education members and interviews with staff at ten foundations that give directly to colleges and universities, the report, Philanthropy in Higher Ed (36 pages, PDF), found that 92 percent of respondents said their foundations funded efforts aimed at boosting access and success for low-income, first-generation college students — including a smooth transition from high school to college (78 percent), career readiness (75 percent), student support services (65 percent), and affordability and financial aid (53 percent).

The survey also found that 52 percent of all respondents and 80 percent of foundations with assets of at least $1 billion supported policy, advocacy, and system reform, while 32 percent funded pedagogy and educational activities, including professional development for faculty, research and equipment purchases, start-up packages for new research-oriented faculty, and curriculum development. In terms of types of institutions supported, the survey found that foundations increasingly are supporting public institutions (71 percent), especially community colleges, rather than private colleges and universities (49 percent), and that 38 percent report supporting minority-serving institutions.

According to the report, the most common recipients of foundation funding for higher education were colleges and universities (84 percent), followed by community-based nonprofits (70 percent), national nonprofits (49 percent), membership organizations (21 percent), and associations of colleges and universities (17 percent), although foundations with at least $1 billion in assets were as likely to award grants to institutions of higher education as to community-based nonprofits (93 percent). The report notes that while awarding direct grants can help a foundation secure influence over and accountability and commitment from a grantee institution, progress can be derailed by leadership transitions and bureaucracy, and replicating even successful models can be challenging.

"As a growing number of foundations adopt a social justice agenda and seek to address inequality, higher education plays a key role in driving economic mobility and opening doors for students of color, as well as first-generation and low-income students," the report's authors conclude. "As colleges and universities develop relationships with foundation funders, one of the most important elements of building a lasting partnership is a shared focus on positive outcomes and opportunities for students."

"Philanthropy in Higher Education: Priorities and Approaches of Private Foundations." TIAA Institute and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Press Release 10/29/2019. "Philanthropy in Higher Ed." TIAA Institute and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Report 10/29/2019.