Giving Compass’ Take:
• Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the TIAA Institute break down different approaches used in higher education philanthropy based on a survey of Grantmakers for Education members.
• Which of these approaches best aligns with your philanthropic goals? Are you ready to take the steps into education philanthropy?
• Learn more about higher education philanthropy.
In 2017, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and the TIAA Institute published a report titled “Achieving Success in Postsecondary Education: Trends in Philanthropy.” Seeking to expand on that research with a larger and more diverse group of foundations, we surveyed members of Grantmakers for Education, a philanthropic affinity group, and conducted interviews with several private foundations that are active in higher education philanthropy. Our findings indicate that top priorities of private foundations that give to higher education include:
- Access and success for low-income, first-generation students
- Career readiness
- Support for public institutions, especially community colleges
- Policy, advocacy, and systems change
- Faculty support
Giving to each of these issue areas varies by foundation size, with larger foundations being more likely to support policy and systemic change across the entire field of higher education. Foundations consider a variety of factors when deciding the types of grantees they will support through their higher education strategy. Private foundations make grants directly to colleges, universities and other organizations that serve students and conduct research on effective practices in higher education, as well as intermediary institutions, such as associations and networks of schools. Survey results indicate that a majority of private foundations active in higher education make grants directly to colleges and universities. However, grants to schools represent one-quarter or less of total grant dollars in higher education by most foundations. This means that most private foundations that support higher education are directing a majority of their dollars to associations or consortia of schools and other institutions in the field.
Making grants directly to colleges and universities comes with benefits, as well as challenges, that funders recognize and take into consideration when creating their strategies. Benefits include the ability to address the unique needs of each campus, the opportunity to create positive impact for every student on campus, and a greater sense of performance accountability when giving directly to a school. Challenges can include complex bureaucracies at many schools, high incidence of leadership transitions, high operating costs, and the daunting scale of the field of higher education in the United States.
Similarly, giving to networks of schools or membership associations also involves benefits and challenges for funders. One key benefit is greater efficiency in giving because funders can create positive impact on multiple campuses through a single grant, especially when schools share common needs and are willing to implement an initiative collaboratively. The challenges of giving through networks include the loss of close relationships with campus leadership, and the fact that a “one size fits all” approach is not always the best way to help colleges and universities improve outcomes for students.
Survey respondents represent a range of foundation sizes from U.S. $1 million to well over U.S. $1 billion in assets, and most (83%) support postsecondary education through their giving. An additional 9% that don’t support postsecondary education do support postsecondary institutions for another purpose, such as research or direct service programs housed at colleges and universities.