Lumina Foundation: Grants for College Readiness

OVERVIEW: Lumina Foundation aligns its grantmaking to the foundation's Goal 2025 program, which seeks to "increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025." It works toward making college more affordable, increasing degree attainment across the country and building a higher education system that better serves the needs of a 21st Century workforce.

IP TAKE: College access is Lumina Foundation's raison d'etre. This must-know higher funder has an endowment of $1 billion and although the foundation mainly works with large established organizations, a small amount of funding is set aside specifically for funding unsolicited proposals.

PROFILE: The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation was established in 2000. In its early years, the foundation focused its work in Indiana, expanding college preparatory courses in Indianapolis high schools and funding college retention projects at colleges in the state. Since then, Lumina has expanded its work to other states by funding projects aimed at making college more affordable and improving student retention to increase the number of students who complete a post-secondary degree or certificate.

The centerpiece of Lumina Foundation's college readiness and access work is Goal 2025, which refers to the foundation's goal of increasing the proportion of Americans with postsecondary credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025. Lumina Foundation is especially interested in projects related to college affordability and greater access for historically underserved populations, including ethnic minorities, the poor, and first-generation college students. Despite its early work with Indianapolis public schools, this is not a funder for K-12 school systems with college readiness programs to approach, as Lumina has not funded school systems in recent years.

Lumina Foundation's new strategic plan for the coming years identifies two key imperatives to help reach its overall goal of 60 percent degree attainment. These imperatives are “Mobilizing to reach Goal 2025,” and “Building a 21st century higher education system.” Its key strategies include:

  • Mobilizing higher education institutions, employers, metro areas, and regions to increase student college success and degree attainment and “to encourage broader adoption of Goal 2025”
  • Advancing state and federal policy for increased college degree attainment
  • Creating new models of student financial aid to increase affordability
  • Designing new business and financial models in higher education to increase accessibility
  • Creating new systems of college credentials “defined by learning and competencies rather than time, clear and transparent pathways to students, high-quality learning, and alignment with workforce needs and trends.”

Grantseekers need to be aware that Lumina Foundation almost exclusively awards grants that are related to these two imperatives, and the foundation does not have a specific college readiness grantmaking program. On the upside, grantseekers may be able to incorporate either one of Lumina's overarching goals into their programs or projects.

Many of the foundation's grants in recent years have gone to national organizations focused on college access, research outfits, college networks, and foundations.  Lumina projects have also funded better higher education and workforce data systems, high-quality journalism on higher education topics, and competency-based education (in which progress toward a college degree is based on tangible evidence of learning such as assessments rather than through the accumulation of credit hours). Recent Lumina grants can be searched in the foundation’s grants database.

Lumina also wants to engage the best minds in the country to serve as thought partners in support of its goal to increase college success and postsecondary degree attainment across the country. As recently as 2013, the foundation's Lumina Fellows program selected experts in public policy and practice issues to collaborate with Lumina staff to advance the foundation's strategic plan by analyzing policy issues and recommending solutions, but the current status of this program is unclear.

By and large, Lumina’s grant proposals are accepted by invitation only. That said, the foundation does leave “a modest amount of grant monies for unsolicited inquiries,” and it also “fund[s] open challenges through innocentive.com to engage creative individuals through open innovation in areas that would transform higher education in America.”

Lumina accepts letters of inquiry year-round but generally reviews unsolicited inquiries through the end of September. Inquiries received after then may be held until the following year. Interested organizations are welcome to submit more than one inquiry at a time. If you plan to send an unsolicited LOI, it must be done through the foundation’s Grant Programs page (be sure to follow the LOI Guidelines).

PEOPLE:

  • Dewayne Mathews, Vice President, Strategy Development
  • Zakiya Smith, Strategy Director
  • Tina Gridiron, Senior Strategy Officer

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