Bernard Osher Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Bernard Osher Foundation wants older adults to be able to complete unfinished degrees as well as change careers or advance within their existing professions. It also supports learning-for-its-own-sake Lifelong Learning Institutes for adults 50 and older, features an arts and education program, and funds a select group of higher ed “integrative medicine programs.” For most programs, the foundation does not accept letters of inquiry, but it is receptive to letters of introduction. The only exception is its Arts and Education program, which accepts unsolicited inquiries but only funds projects in either Maine or California's Alameda and San Francisco counties.

IP TAKE: The truly unique component of Osher’s funding strategy is its Lifelong Learning Institutes, but in terms of seeking funding, your best bets at the moment are the foundation's Scholars and Fellows and (for Mainers and Bay Area organizations only) Local Arts and Education programs.

PROFILE: California businessman Bernard Osher is a strong advocate for higher education and the arts, and for more than 35 years has supported both through the foundation that bears his name. The Osher Foundation says it “seeks to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts...with special attention to reentry students.” This objective is realized through four program areas: “post-secondary scholarships, lifelong learning institutes for seasoned adults, select integrative medicine programs, and arts and educational organizations.”

Osher’s first program, Scholars and Fellows, is offered through a select list of partner higher ed institutions. Reviewing this list prior to applying is critical, since the class of eligible student (graduate, undergraduate, community college transfer, re-entry, etc.) is institution-specific. Grant seekers apply directly to the school, not to the foundation itself. Additional restrictions and priorities also apply, and can be found on the program home page as well as this page, which clarifies additional geographic limitations on which types of awards are available.

Another notable area of focus is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. With a National Resource Center headquarters at Northwestern University, this program seeks to engage “the interest of many older adults, especially those who have learning for the joy of learning—without examinations or grades—and keeping in touch with a larger world.” More than 100 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes operate at colleges and universities across the country, with at least one in each of the 50 states. Individual programs vary, but share the following characteristics: non-credit courses developed with older adults in mind, university connection and support, a sound organizational structure, and a diverse array of intellectually stimulating courses. Osher is not currently looking to set up new centers, but is willing to keep on file a two- to three-page summary of your institution’s work in the event that it decides to expand in the future.

Osher’s third program, Integrative Medicine, is focused on “education, research, and clinical services” that “emphasize the combined use of modern medicine with complementary therapies and established healing practices to promote health and wellness.” Through this program, the foundation has established several centers for integrative medicine. As with its Lifelong Learning Institutes, Osher is not currently looking to set up new centers, but will accept a two- to three-page summary of your institution’s work for future reference.

The final education program at Osher, Local Arts and Education, has broadly defined goals but a relatively narrow geographic focus. In the past, the foundation has supported grantees including “performing arts groups, literary programs, educational and environmental groups, and social service organizations,” while its current focus is on “arts and educational organizations,” and only in the state of Maine and the counties of San Francisco and Alameda in California. On the upside for grantseekers in these areas, this is the only program that accepts unsolicited letters of inquiry, which are received “on a rolling basis.”


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