USA Funds: Grants for Higher Education


OVERVIEW: USA Funds has been best known as a student loan guarantor, but funds college completion projects that are intended to better align higher education and workforce needs. Its focus areas are on "Streamlining key education transitions," "Facilitating smoother pathways from campus to the workplace," "Promoting innovative approaches to college and career preparation," and "Building new frameworks for data-driven decision-making." Higher ed funding has often gone to colleges, state governments, nonprofits, and others with projects related to college and career success. 

IP TAKE: This funder has historically kept a low profile, but has recently been raising its visibility in higher education grantmaking. Funding is only available by invitation or through RFPs, so be sure to sign up for their mailing list or contact the foundation directly for the latest information.

PROFILE: USA Funds began in 1960 as a student loan guarantor. The company eventually became part of the nonprofit holding company USA Group. In 2000, Sallie Mae acquired most USA Group affiliates, with the exception of USA Funds, which continued to operate independently as a student loan guarantor.

More recently, USA Funds has entered the field of higher education philanthropy. Since the arrival in 2013 of its new president and CEO, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Bill Hansen, USA Funds has been raising its profile through grantmaking and policy research. “Completion with a Purpose” is how the foundation describes its approach to higher education philanthropy, and is focused on promoting college readiness, college completion, and a successful transition by students from the classroom to quality employment in the workplace. 

This funder is especially interested in the 40 percent of students who enroll in college and don’t complete a degree program, as well as the 50 percent of students who complete a program of study but find themselves jobless or underemployed, or indicate that they would have chosen a different course of study if they could do it over again.

To further its goal, USA Funds supports initiatives in four areas, which it describes as:

  • Streamlining key education transitions with a special emphasis on ensuring college and career readiness among disadvantaged students.
  • Facilitating smoother pathways from campus to the workplace and ensuring workforce readiness.
  • Promoting innovative approaches to college and career preparation by improving the speed, reducing the cost, and improving the quality of these programs.
  • Building new frameworks for data-driven decision-making to better inform the decision-making process of “students, families, policymakers and educational institutions”

    USA partners with state governments, community organizations and nonprofits, metropolitan areas, institutions of higher education, and national organizations. Among the latter, the funder is especially interested in organizations that represent state governments, employers, and postsecondary institutions.

    Among USA Funds’ priorities are programs that have the potential to scale, that are collaborative, and that include policy research that can be used to “broaden the scope of our grantees’ work.” USA is also interested in programs that serve low-income, first-generation college students, students of color, adult learners, and other nontraditional students. The main thing here is that you share USA Funds’ “Completion with a Purpose” agenda by having a program that emphasizes not only college completion, but educational outcomes that lead to career and life success.

    Currently, USA Funds does not accept unsolicited funding requests. Instead, the funder relies on its staff and research by third parties to identify programs and organizations that align with its areas of interest. Rather than unsolicited proposals, USA expects you to solicit proposals through invitation and RFPs. To stay on top of new RFPs, subscribe to the funder’s grant-making list. You can also contact the foundation at for more information.


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