MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The MacArthur Foundation is an iconic humanities and higher education funder. In a recent restructuring, the foundation spun off its main vehicle for higher education grants, and many other programs are either being wound down or have already ended. However, higher education institutions may still be eligible for funding to support work related to MacArthur's new and ongoing programs.

IP TAKE: MacArthur funding is highly competitive. The foundation does not operate a higher-education-specific program, so grantseekers will need to do their homework to identify a program area at the foundation that suits their needs. 

PROFILE: With assets of over $6 billion, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation dominates the humanities and higher education. Its mission and activities are broad and far-reaching, and have the objective of “building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.” Many of MacArthur's higher education grants in these areas have aimed to impact public policy, often by supporting related research.

MacArthur higher education grants fund academic organizations and individuals through several programs, which include Journalism, support for the city of Chicago, the MacArthur Fellowship (popularly known as the "Genius Grant"), and the Award for Creative & Effective Institutions. The foundation does not accept applications or nominations for the Institution awards, which range from $200,000 to $1 million and are given to "enable long-range organizational planning and greater financial stability" for "effective institutions [working] to help address some of the world's most challenging problems."

MacArthur also conducts some higher education related grantmaking through its "Big Bets,” which include Climate Solutions research; Criminal Justice reform and policy suggestions; Impact Investments providing “flexible loans and other financial instruments” to meet the needs of underserved people and communities;” Nuclear Challenges; and On Nigeria, which seeks to “reduce corruption by supporting Nigerian-led efforts to promote an atmosphere of accountability, transparency, and good governance in the country.”

Lastly, the foundation facilitates limited higher education grantmaking through its 100&Change program. According to the foundation, every three years MacArthur will award $100 million to back "a single proposal designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places, or the planet." Eligibility is inclusive and open to "organizations working in any field of endeavor anywhere," so long as they "identify both the problem they are trying to solve, as well as their proposed solution" and offer a proposal that is "meaningful, verifiable, durable, and feasible."

Grants may be as small as $10,000 or as large as $3 million. More details on the MacArthur Foundation’s grantmaking habits can be found in its grants database.

Grantseekers should start by reviewing the Guidelines & Funding Cycles for the relevant program area page to determine if it is currently accepting proposals or letters of inquiry.

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