Michael and Susan Dell Foundation: Grants for College Readiness

OVERVIEW: The Dell Foundation's College Preparation and Completion initiative targets college readiness, primarily in disadvantaged populations, with a focus on urban areas. This funder supports a wide range of organizations, including school systems, nonprofits, and charter operators. Dell's college readiness grants can be found under its Urban Education, College Preparation and Completion program.

IP TAKE: This funder’s holistic approach to college readiness targets not only admissions and financial barriers but also the academic and noncognitive skills that support student success. Dell emphasizes metrics-based and data-driven research to identify where projects funded can be effective, systemic, sustainable, and expandable. This is a funder that emphasizes work in urban communities, collaborates with other foundations, maintains a close working relationship with its grantees, and stands out in that it accepts unsolicited proposals.

PROFILE: Founded in 1999 with a focus on Central Texas children's education and health, today the Dell Foundation is "working in major urban communities" with a "focus on opportunities with the greatest potential to directly and measurably transform the lifelong outcomes of impoverished urban children around the globe."  Like other philanthropic organizations that fund college readiness and college access programs, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation sees a need to close the educational gap affecting poor and ethnic minority students. Its three main programs are Childhood Health, Family Economic Stability, and - most relevant for college readiness funders - Urban Education.

The foundation supports college readiness programs in the belief that the right interventions can help more low-income, ethnic minority, and first-generation college students access higher education and complete degrees. Dell's College Preparation and Completion initiative, which is part of the foundation's Urban Education program, targets college readiness programs and supports.

It’s important to reinforce at this point that this is not a program for rural and suburban school systems.

The College Preparation and Completion initiative looks to curriculum development and reducing financial barriers to "empower more high-need students to graduate high school college-ready and obtain a bachelor’s degree."  To this end, Dell has funded public school systems, state education agencies, charter school operators, and non-profit organizations that provide educational services.

In contrast to many funders' college access programs, which mostly emphasize increasing college admissions for underserved student groups and lowering financial barriers for these students to attend college, the Dell Foundation's College Preparation and Completion program is more holistic, incorporating the academic, financial, and non-cognitive aspects of college readiness.

Based on the work of college readiness researchers, Dell sees college readiness as a function of academic preparedness that readies students for college-level work, noncognitive skills such as time management and character that help students to persist and succeed in college, and college readiness skills that help students access and navigate the admissions and financial aid processes.

To that end, the Dell Foundation supports programs that incorporate the following elements:

  • “Rigorous academic curriculum” like Advanced Placement
  • “Noncognitive curriculum...to provide student support skills”
  • Greater financial access to a college education
  • Support services to help students “such as coaching/advising on the application and enrollment processes, financial & home/life challenges of the college experience, and situational adversity”
  • Support for participation in scholarship programs, including one offered by Dell

Dell's grants not only support programs that work with students to increase college readiness, but also efforts to improve data collection and analysis in ways that help school systems better measure student readiness for college. To get a better sense of the college readiness projects Dell has supported, search its grants database.

The other funding areas in Dell’s Urban Education program are Performance-Driven Education, Human Capital in Schools, Quality School Options, the Dell Scholars Program, Academic & After-School Programs for Students, and Blended Learning.

Although Dell currently has an open proposal policy, it does not give to individuals, lobbyists, or endowments. The foundation also notes that it "generally will not fund more than 25 percent of a project’s budget or more than 10 percent of an organization’s total annual operating expenses," limits funding to projects in urban areas, and asks that proposals be as specific as possible about what problems applicants want to solve and how they plan to solve them.

Because Dell has a large number of program officers whose geographic and programmatic responsibilities vary significantly, fundraisers would do well to review the Education portions of the foundation's staff page (key individuals working on college readiness are listed below).

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