MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The MacArthur Foundation is a major player in philanthropy. 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 ed institutions may still be eligible for funding to support work related to MacArthur's new and ongoing programs.

IP TAKE: Funding from MacArthur is highly competitive. Also, the foundation does not operate a higher-ed-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 is an impossible-to-ignore player in the world of philanthropy. 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. 

Owing to a recent restructuring, a number of MacArthur's programs have either been terminated or are in the process of being wound down in the coming years. Its major education program, Digital Media and Learning, has been moved into a separate entity called Collective Shift, for which MacArthur provided seed funding.

A major emphasis for MacArthur is now on two "Big Bets." The first is what the foundation calls Climate Solutions, which works to "prevent climate change by curbing emissions and supporting global leadership on climate solutions." The second is Criminal Justice, which is focused on "working to address over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails."

In addition to the above, the newest of MacArthur's "big bets" is the recently-announced 100&Change program. According to the foundation, every three years MacArthur will award a whopping $100 million to back "a single proposal designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places, or the planet." Eligibility is about as inclusive as one could possibly imagine; the foundation states that applications are 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." This one is certainly worth keeping a close eye on.   

MacArthur higher education grants are also possible for academic organizations and individuals through the programs it is continuing, 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. Like the MacArthur Fellowship, the foundation accepts neither applications nor 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."

The bottom line: the MacArthur Foundation doesn't operate a program that is specific to higher education, so grantseekers will have to research other programs at MacArthur to determine which one aligns with their interests.

It is also important to review MacArthur's most recent awards to get a better sense of its current funding priorities. Awards from the MacArthur Foundation can be searched in the foundation’s grants database.

If your proposal is in line with MacArthur’s initiatives, the first step is to review the foundation’s Guidelines & Funding Cycles page to determine if your program area is currently issuing calls for proposals and/or accepting letters of inquiry.


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