Starr Foundation: Grants in Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Starr Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States and has focused on education since its founding in 1955. Starr is a major scholarship and exchange program funder at postsecondary institutions across the country, and also provides support through to colleges and universities through its Culture and the Arts, Human Needs, Medicine and Healthcare, and Public Policy programs.

IP TAKE: Universities around the country have received awards from this funder, but most of its grantees are either based in or somehow serve communities in the New York City area. The Starr Foundation also does not accept unsolicited proposals or materials.

PROFILE: The Starr Foundation was founded by insurance entrepreneur Cornelius Vander Starr, who left his estate to the foundation after his passing in 1968. In addition to education, the foundation supports efforts in the areas of "medicine and healthcare, human needs, public policy, culture and the environment."

In terms of its support for higher ed, scholarship organizations and postsecondary schools throughout the United States offer Starr Foundation-supported scholarships. The foundation also "funds organizations that provide need-based financial aid to students seeking to attend secondary and post-secondary schools" as well as a number of exchange programs that send U.S. students abroad and bring international students to the U.S. In many ways, this was Cornelius Vander Starr’s vision when he started the fund in 1955, as he wanted to support students directly.

Today, the foundation continues to provide maintenance funding for existing funds, and new schools are invited by program staff to apply for endowed funds. But in terms of Starr's education program, these two programs are the only real focus.

Some other Starr programs, though, can have a broader impact on higher education funding. The Culture and the Arts program makes grants to arts education nonprofits, for example, and for many years, the foundation was a regular supporter of the C.V. Starr scholarship at the prestigious Juilliard School.

Its Medicine and Healthcare focus allocates “significant research grants and grants to assist in the provision of healthcare to under-served communities in New York City and overseas,” with a stated plan to focus increasingly on preventative healthcare going forward. Among the most significant grants in this area was a recent $10 million award to support stem cell research at the University of Miami Medical School, and a $6 million endowment for the creation of two professor positions in veterinary medicine at Cornell University.

The Public Policy program is focused on “international relations and the promotion of the rule of law and democratic institutions around the world.” In this regard, the foundation recently lent its support to Texas A&M University “for the George H. W. Bush 6th Biennial China-U.S. Relations Conference...held in Beijing.” The foundation also recently gave $1 million in unrestricted support to the NYU School of Law, as well as a similarly unrestricted award of $25,000 to the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University.

With all these possibilities in mind, it is important to emphasize that Starr is no longer accepting unsolicited proposals—or any unsolicited materials, for that matter—which makes the process challenging for those seeking funding.


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