For foundations invested in education, the choices can seem stark: Do we help educate the many or the few? Do we focus on large-scale content delivery or personal mentorship? Do we aspire for reach or for depth? At the Teagle Foundation, with its focus on liberal arts education, we have tried to navigate the options by exploring new mediums of scale without losing our grip on the longstanding benefits that a humanistic education offers: (a) a relationship with a teacher; (b) relationships with peers; and (c) texts that shape how students understand the world and their place within it. Rather than pursue an either/or approach in our grantmaking, we have sought to strike a balance between the two. Reflecting on lessons learned from that process, we outline below key steps that we hope others may find useful as guiding principles for increasing accessibility while maintaining human connections to peers, teachers, and texts.

  1. We began by supporting grantees we believed could offer a truly transformative education for each student in the program (i.e., depth) as well as grantees with the potential to reach and help hundreds of thousands of students (i.e., breadth).
  2. To achieve depth, we focused on those often left behind by our current higher education system.
  3.  To achieve scale, we focused on the challenge of transferring from a community college to a four-year institution.
  4. Throughout this process of retaining our vision of educational depth while seizing opportunities to help significant numbers of students, the foundation has expanded an initiative that has the potential to do both.

For other education funders, the process of pursuing both depth and breadth might look different, but our aim here is to illustrate a general process that is currently working for Teagle in this striving for balance between focus and reach across all of our initiatives. The foundation’s grantmaking aims to retain a substantive vision of education while pursuing opportunities that truly help significant numbers of students — a golden mean of sorts.

Read the full article about education philanthropy by Annie W. Bezbatchenko and Tamara Mann Tweel at Philanthropy News Digest.