Kresge Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: Established by Kmart founder Sebastian Kresge in 1924, Kresge is now one of the largest private foundations in the country. The foundation's two main higher ed grantmaking areas are focused on "college access" and "strengthening institutions." Kresge's domestic U.S. emphasis is on cities, and it also offers higher ed grants for work in South Africa.

IP TAKE: Kresge's commitment to getting students "to and through" college creates an opening for higher education initiatives from research to classroom innovation. Unsolicited applications are not accepted, but keep an eye out for open RFP's.

PROFILE: The Troy, Michigan-based Kresge Foundation “works to expand opportunities in America's cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, community development” in America’s urban areas. The foundation has a solid education program that provides funding for a variety of college readiness and success initiatives. It's also one of the most well-funded programs at the foundation. Kresge regularly awards about $20 million yearly towards education. Its higher education funding is divided into two subprogram areas.

First, there's Kresge's Pathways To and Through College subprogram, which seeks “to propel more low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students into two- and four-year institutions and ensure they have the skills and support to stay and graduate.” A particular focus is on “African American, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Native American students.” Kresge awards grants for a wide variety of projects under this umbrella, such as college readiness programs, financial-aid counseling, campus technology improvements, and research college completion strategies.

Kresge's other subprogram, Strengthening Institutions, works “to help postsecondary institutions that focus on the needs of low-income and underrepresented students by increasing their capacity to carry out their missions and better serve students.” This subprogram supports everything from curriculum development to leadership training and development. Support doesn't always go directly to institutions either, as the foundation has developed many strong partners in this area.

More recently, Kresge turned its attention to the higher education grantmaking to address the needs of returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it has provided a six-figure grant in this area every year for which data is available since at least 2009.

For those seeking more detailed information about Kresge’s grants, its searchable Grant Highlights and Social Investment Highlights databases are user-friendly and helpful, as are its annual reports.

For non-profit fundraisers, Kresge can be an important funder in higher education, but there are a few things to consider. Most importantly, education is currently not a funding area where the foundation accepts unsolicited proposals. Grantseekers are now encouraged to submit dialed-down applications, and program staffers put out open requests for proposals as well, which are listed on the foundation's Grant Opportunities page.

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