Laura and John Arnold Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation’s major program areas are focused on Criminal Justice, K-12 Education, Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation, Research Integrity, Sustainable Public Finance, and a catch-all area called New Initiatives, for projects that fall outside the scope of the other programs. Most funding for higher education supports research and other similar grants.

IP TAKE: This foundation does not have a program specific to higher ed, but higher ed researchers can find an “in” through nearly all of Arnold’s program areas. LJAF is looking for “transformative” work, so be ready to think big and to have a plan that is data-heavy and transparent.

PROFILE: The Arnold Foundation is very much about transformation and reform, looking for innovative new models, and especially championing openness and transparency. Specifically, the foundation seeks “to address our nation’s most pressing and persistent challenges using evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approaches...that target the root causes” of these issues with solutions that are “both scalable nationally and sustainable.”

This objective is probably most apparent in the foundation’s work in education reform, its biggest priority. Other programs include Criminal Justice, Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation, Research Integrity, Sustainable Public Finance, and a catch-all area called New Initiatives.

Arnold does not have a program specifically dedicated to higher education. Rather, funding is generally funneled to colleges and universities to conduct research in one of the program areas listed above. The general pattern appears to be that the Arnolds and their staff keep an eye out for qualified parties who have big ideas and ambitions to improve their fields, and then back them in a big way. Let’s get into each of these program areas.

Like many of Arnold’s other initiatives, the Research Integrity program has a zest for shaking things up. Instead of just supporting individual researchers, Research Integrity is all about improving the reliability of published studies, with an emphasis on openness, rigorous analysis, and participation among peers. Toward that goal, they fund watchdog programs promoting open science, efforts to replicate existing studies, and researchers who can provide robust and meaningful work in areas where it is currently lacking. Two favorites are the Center for Open Science and the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI), but university grantees like Harvard, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Francisco, Oxford and the University of Minnesota have been supported for work on projects like "data sharing in medical clinical trials," the establishment of a center to "improve the quality of health care news," "efforts to improve the transparency and reliability of clinical trials in medicine," and public education on how sugar affects health.

The foundation’s Criminal Justice initiative seeks “to reduce crime, increase public safety, and ensure the criminal justice system operates as fairly and cost-effectively as possible” by supporting “research projects, creat[ing] tools for practitioners, and partner[ing] with local jurisdictions to pilot and test new policies and practices.” CJI in turn is subdivided into four focus areas: The Front End of the Criminal Justice System (which uses “data, analytics, and technology to improve decision making...from the time a defendant is arrested until the case is resolved); improvements in Forensic Science from collection through analysis and use in court; Crime Prevention (including analysis of issues like the relationship between access to health care and criminal recidivism), and improving Data-Driven Decision Making through support for “research and data centers that will help criminal justice officials make more objective, evidence-based decisions.”

LJAF's K-12 Education program is a big backer of education reform in many areas, including improved use of technology, school choice and support for charter schools. All of this falls under the “portfolio model of school governance,” which ”separates school oversight from campus operations” in order to “promote a decentralized administration and more school choice for families as well as increased flexibility and accountability for leaders and educators.” A number of top postsecondary institutions have received funding for research in this area, and some universities have also received six- and seven-figure sums for their teacher training programs.

Another major concern for LJAF is Evidence-Based Policy and Innovation, which supports efforts to “encourage governments and nonprofit organizations to help build the evidence base for social interventions and to consider reliable evidence as one of the primary factors in their decisions,” with the goal of increasing effectiveness and efficiency. Through this program, the foundation supports things like on-campus research institutes, research labs, the effectiveness of public policies such as raising the minimum wage and anti-poverty programs, and efforts “to reduce polarization and dysfunction in government.”

In the area of Sustainable Public Finance, LJAF “works to promote fiscal sustainability and the effective oversight of public funds, with a particular interest in “the impact of tax policies and design[ing] public pension systems that are affordable, sustainable, and secure.” To date, most recent higher ed funding has gone to studies of public sector pensions and retirement plans and systems, as well as efforts to improve the accessibility of related data.

As mentioned above, LJAF also funds programs that fall outside of its established focus areas through its New Initiatives funding. At present the foundation is “investigating a number of issues” but mainly focuses on “health care, education technology, and information transparency."

The foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals, but it does issue calls for proposals. It will also review inquiries, which can be submitted online.


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