Charles Stewart Mott Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: Named for Charles Stewart Mott, one of the founders of General Motors, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation was founded in 1926 and focuses on four key areas: education, the environment, civil society, and projects targeted specifically at the Flint, Michigan area. Foundation grants are available to organizations in the U.S. for all funding areas, and internationally through its Civil Society and Environment programs.

IP TAKE: Higher ed grantseekers should start with the Success Beyond High School subprogram of Mott’s Education focus, but this funder’s wide focus and geographic scope mean that support for postsecondary organizations can be earned through any of its program areas.

PROFILE: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is named for one of the original founders of General Motors. The foundation, established by Mott in 1926, supports projects that work towards a vision of society “where each individual’s quality of life is connected to the well-being of the community, both locally and globally.” Put another way, Mott “seeks to strengthen, in people and their organizations, what Mr. Mott called ‘the capacity for accomplishment.’”

The foundation pursues this objective through programs in strengthening civil society in the U.S. and abroad, education (especially for “low- and moderate-income families”) at the primary, secondary, and postsecondary levels, protection of the environment through policy work and research, support for the area of Flint, MI, and an additional category for “exploratory and special projects.” In a recent year, the foundation reported awarding 400 grants totaling close to $120 million.

For higher ed grantseekers, the most direct route for grants is through the Success Beyond High School sub-focus of Mott’s Education program. Grantmaking here is subdivided into two key areas: “policies and practices that increase both access to and assets for post-secondary education and training” (emphasis added).

By access, Mott “seeks to identify and promote state-based financial aid models that improve college access and completion” by supporting “groups working at the national and state levels on selected financial aid policy reform efforts” as well as organizations that provide those groups with “technical or strategic assistance.” As might be expected with this description, “access” grants in recent years have generally gone to policy and advocacy organizations working on policies to increase postsecondary achievement and success among low- and moderate-income students, rather than funding higher ed institutions themselves.  

In terms of “assets,” Mott looks “to test and promote effective savings initiatives that can increase students’ preparedness” to pay for their postsecondary education. Grants in this stream fund “state or local organizations modeling best practices for children’s savings accounts,” “groups working at the national, state or local level on financial aid, college completion and/or asset-building policy issues,” and, again, organizations that support those groups at a technical or strategic level. Here, the most recent grants show more of a mix in funding recipients, with awards split between research and advocacy organizations as well as universities, for initiatives like research into effective financial preparation for postsecondary study as well as programs to start children saving for college as early as kindergarten.

Outside of direct education support, Mott also funds higher ed work in its Civil Society, Environment, and Flint program areas. Civil society initiatives have supported universities working at the legal, community, and governmental levels both in the U.S. and abroad for research as well as initiatives designed to protect the public sphere and get a broader swath of the population politically engaged. Environment and Flint programs have likewise supported higher ed institutions in a combination of research and community outreach projects.

Also noteworthy under the “special projects” category is Mott’s support for “Historically and Predominantly Black Colleges.” Little information is available about this program on the website, however, and the foundation emphasizes that grants in its exploratory program are strictly invitation-only.

The foundation recommends reviewing its most recent grants (linked on each subprogram’s page), but if you’re interested in the long view of its giving, Mott also has a searchable database of grants dating as far back as 1977.

For interested organizations, start by submitting an online letter of inquiry to get the ball rolling (sending in a full unsolicited proposal is strongly discouraged). Note that in addition to its other priorities, the foundation “encourages its grantees to seek matching gifts as a way to diversify the grantee organization's funding sources.”


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