Philanthropy in Higher Education: Priorities and Approaches of Private Foundations

Philanthropy in Higher Ed

As a growing number of private foundations adopt a social justice agenda, their higher education grants reflect broad societal concerns.


In 2017, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the TIAA Institute conducted a study on trends in private foundation giving to higher education. This report expands on that effort by examining a greater variety of foundations in terms of asset size, geographical focus and type. The authors identify private foundations' educational priorities; the types of institutions they support through grants; and how they approach giving directly to colleges and universities, compared to other types of academic organizations.

Key Insights

  • Private foundations' top educational interests include access and support for disadvantaged students; career readiness; and support for public institutions, particularly community colleges.
  • Giving varies by foundation size, with larger foundations more likely to support policy and systemic change across academia.
  • Most private foundations that give to higher education allocate 25% or less of their educational grant dollars directly to colleges and universities.
  • The bulk of private foundations' educational grants go to associations, consortia of schools and other institutions that serve academia broadly.

Campus leaders should consider a foundation's programmatic priorities, geographic focus, size and values when approaching a potential funder.


The authors distributed an online survey to members of Grantmakers for Education, a national philanthropic association, and 76 foundations responded. They also interviewed 10 foundations from across the U.S. that give directly to colleges and universities.


Amy Holmes

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Liza Primeau

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Sign up for the TIAA Institute newsletter

Get the latest research and insights straight in your inbox

We are sorry.

The service that receives your request is unavailable at the moment. Please try again.

Related Publications