Education

Increasing the number of college graduates in the United States can fuel a new, education-led era of prosperity and help low-income and underserved people change the trajectory of their lives. We invest in work that advances these ends.

Program Overview

A good job, a living wage, a path to social stability – education gives us choices.

Our Education Program focuses on expanding student access to higher education and opening avenues to academic success, particularly for those historically left out of the picture: low-income, first-generation, African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American students.

The U.S. is no longer the leader in postsecondary attainment. Degree completion has been flat for more than three decades while other nations have improved their performance.

At the same time, the correlation between a postsecondary credential and wages is today stronger than ever. The economic well-being of communities, states, and nations is directly connected to educational attainment, making degree completion and postsecondary training matters of social and civic consequence. 

There are challenges:

  • U.S. demographic trends find the greatest population growth occurring among young people who are the least likely to earn degrees: those from historically underserved communities.
  • Faced with declining tax revenue, states have reduced funding for public universities.
  • Tuition rates have climbed sharply, putting the cost of an education at some public universities beyond families’ reach and contributing to enormous student debt.

There is also great promise:

  • New technology presents apparently limitless opportunities for interactivity and access to books, lectures, and libraries from anywhere in the world and is rapidly changing the traditional model of higher education.
  • There are increasingly strong voices making the case for reining in costs, and reformers committed to helping students succeed.
  • New business models are emerging, along with an increased willingness among educational institutions to collaborate.

In this environment, we believe that focusing on minority and disadvantaged students is the prudent course for a nation striving to maintain and improve its economic well-being and the clear course for a nation hoping to enhance economic opportunity for all.

We invest through these focus areas:

Pathways to and through college

Just getting in the door isn’t enough. We want to propel more low-income, first-generation, underrepresented students into two- and four-year institutions and ensure they have the skills and support to stay and graduate.

Strengthening institutions

 We seek to build the capacity of institutions whose primary missions are to serve low-income, underrepresented, underprepared, and first-generation college students. Those institutions include community colleges and minority-serving and Title III and Title V schools. We want to help institutions lower the cost of delivering an education while retaining or enhancing quality.

Higher education in South Africa

We also make grants to promote access and success at South African universities. We believe that increasing the number of university graduates is one of the best ways to promote economic growth in this important and influential fledgling democracy.

How We Work

Because we are committed to improving college achievement on a broad scale, we rarely fund programs at individual institutions. We most often award grants in collaboration with other funders and support established organizations.

We support activity: 

Focusing on geographic priority areas

After reviewing demographic data, college graduation rates, and potential nonprofit and philanthropic partnerships, we have chosen several places to concentrate our grantmaking: Arkansas, Michigan, Texas, and southern California. In addition, we look for opportunities to support activities in the 57 cities seeking the Talent Dividend Prize, a competition designed to increase the number of postsecondary-degree earners. South Africa is our sole international effort.

We do make grants outside these regions, but believe that geographic priority areas help us to build on earlier efforts and increase our impact.

Involving networks, systems and groups of institutions

We look for groups of institutions or partnerships designed to broadly increase graduation rates. Examples include the national community college reform network Achieving the Dream and an effort, led by University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College, to create a network of institutions that will allow military families to more easily transfer to and from community colleges and universities near military bases and, thereby, complete degrees.

Improving productivity and innovation

We provide support for innovations in online education, green buildings, and back-office consolidations that reduce costs. Examples of this activity include Arizona State University’s e-counseling software for transfer students and Second Nature’s efforts to increase green building and energy efficiency at minority-serving institutions.

Funding Process

The Education Program no longer accepts unsolicited proposals for financial support.

The Education team is deeply engaged with the sector and makes every effort to be aware of emerging and ongoing initiatives with the potential to advance postsecondary attainment. The team participates in meetings of leading higher education organizations such as the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Council on Education, the National College Access Network and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. It also works with almost all of the national higher education funders and many regional funders. 

The Education team does expect to periodically invite applications for specific efforts through a “request for proposals” process.

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