Arthur Vining Davis Foundations: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: Overwhelmingly, private colleges in the sciences and/or liberal arts receive large grants from the Florida-based Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, whether for capital programs, new programs, or support for students. There isn't a geographic focus either; the foundations fund private colleges across the country — from Portland, Oregon, to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

IP TAKE: The organization provides a wealth of grants to private colleges with renowned academic performance and solid financial footing. But keep in mind that proposals are by invitation only, that your institution's president must be directly involved, and that the foundations’ giving strategy is currently under review.

PROFILE: The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations' higher education grant strategy has a few unique aspects. First, and most important, Davis grants focus their support on top-ranking, financially stable colleges focusing on liberal arts or the sciences. These fall into two broad categories: “planning grants that range from $25,000 up to $100,000, or comprehensive grants for $250,000.” In recent years, comprehensive grants have supported just about every type of project, from new buildings and facility renovations to support for new professors or expanded academic programs.

A couple important things to know: College presidents must provide oversight of the grant proposal and leadership on a proposed project. In fact, the application process requires a signed letter from an institution's president. Yet, the most important factors are academic quality and financial stability. Grants are evaluated on two criteria: a project's lasting educational value, and once again, the academic renown of the institution.

Looking at past higher ed grants, there isn't any clear geographic bias. Recent grants have gone to some of the top private colleges on the East Coast, the West Coast, and the Midwest, among other locations.

Although the foundations state a "non-prescriptive approach" and "no particular preference" for projects, there are a few things that will help focus proposals. For one, they must “translate thought leadership into practical, effective action,” that “target the undergraduate experience,” and that “reflect a high institutional priority.” In terms of specific goals, the foundations look to support initiatives to “advance academic quality, establish new, innovative practices or address persistent academic issues.” A wide swath of subject-specific and interdisciplinary initiatives for students and faculty are available for funding, especially those that stress “academic quality, leadership development, innovation and integrity of mission.”

Davis also awards some grants to organizations other than universities that work in the focus areas in which it gives. Recent recipients in this area, for example, have included the Association of American Colleges and Universities (to expand university capstone programs) and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (to strengthen the Historically Black Colleges and Universities governance).

Although Davis’s higher education grants all fall under the same program, it is important to acknowledge that within that scope, the foundations specifically earmark some grant dollars for traditionally black colleges, Native American tribal colleges, and colleges in Appalachia. Recipient institutions that fall under these categories are subject to the same expectations of all other higher ed grantees.

Davis has made occasional exceptions for teacher training colleges and research institutions, but these grants are few and far between.  Also important to note is that proposals for funding are currently by invitation only, and that the foundations’ giving strategy is currently under internal review, so its focus may shift in the coming months and years.