Ford Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: With more than $11 billion in assets, the Ford Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States. Although the foundation has recently restructured, its main focus is still on addressing inequities and fostering social change. 

IP TAKE: Ford looks likely to funnel most future higher ed funding through the Pathways for Youth Success sub-focus of its Youth Opportunity and Learning program. In light of its restructuring, keep an eye on Ford's most recent grants to get a beat on any changes in funding priorities.

PROFILE: The Ford Foundation has historically approached higher education grantmaking almost purely from a social justice angle. Recently, the Ford Foundation has undergone an organizational restructuring. The foundation’s work is now driven by the core view that “inequality, in all its forms, is the greatest impediment to just, fair, and peaceful societies,” and all of its seven program areas are directed at confronting this issue head on.

Until recently, the flagship higher ed program at Ford was called Higher Education for Social Justice. With the goal of achieving greater representation of disadvantaged and marginalized people into the American workforce, Ford supported efforts aimed at increasing college access, affordability, "smoothing" the transition for students transferring from two-year to four-year institutions, and increasing retention rates and graduation of low-income students. This also meant getting a wider variety of people into colleges (including low-income students and even the incarcerated) as well as giving the general public greater access to the discussions conducted between academic researchers and policy analysts.

Under its new structure, Ford will be focusing on supporting “youth who experience inequality in multiple ways across race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, sexual identity, and migration status.” Its Youth and Learning program is geared at anyone age 24 and younger, and is composed of two sub-elements:

  • Pathways for Youth Success, which will focus on “public policies and public-private partnerships that recognize the value of youth and investments that strengthen their abilities and opportunities” by helping them move “from secondary to postsecondary education,” in “their transition to quality employment and adult life,” and in the reduction of “barriers that inhibit their progress.”
  • Next-Generation Leadership, which will “support efforts to connect youth with networks, mentors, and movements...through which they can learn social change by doing social change.”

    In this sense, grantseekers may find that while the focus areas and structure of Ford may have shifted (more in some areas than in others), the foundation is still, as several Vice Presidents recently affirmed, rooted in the “principles that have guided the foundation for eight decades.”

    Geographically, the foundation has historically spread its U.S. higher ed grant money across the nation, focusing strongly on big name schools like NYU, Columbia, the University of Michigan, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Rutgers, as well as prestigious academic organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences.

    Going forward, countries and regions currently listed as including a Youth Opportunity and Learning program are the United States, China, and all regions of Africa where Ford has a presence.

    It remains to be seen how much will change in terms of what Ford will actually fund at the higher education level. Until new grantmaking starts up again in early 2016, past grant recipients can be searched on the program's grants page.


    • Search for staff contact info and bios in PeopleFinder (paid subscribers only.)