Gates Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education


OVERVIEW: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in the United States, with grantmaking programs that cover global health and development as well as education in the U.S. and Washington State. Institutions of higher education with science or technology projects have often found support through one of Gates's many programs.

IP TAKE: Dealing with Gates can feel a bit intimidating, but the foundation offers many resources to potential grantees. Unsolicited applications and letters of inquiry are generally not accepted, but LOIs and RFPs are announced as they become available.  

PROFILE: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has maintained a foothold in higher ed for some time, but it got officially serious about in 2008, according to The Seattle Times. The foundation announced some ambitious agenda items that year, such as doubling the number of students graduating and ensuring that 80% of low-income students have what they need to attend college by 2025.

For many postsecondary STEM fundraisers, one program where they can look for funding is Postsecondary Success. Broadly speaking, Gates’ core goals in this program are focused on making higher education more “personalized, flexible, clear, and affordable.” The desire here is to counterbalance the ever-widening education gap and to "ensure that all low-income young adults have affordable access to a quality postsecondary education that is tailored to their individual needs and educational goals and leads to timely completion of a degree or certificate with labor-market value."

STEM certainly has a big role to play in that last concern - ensuring employability for students after they graduate.

At the same time, there is a wide swath of additional STEM-related university initiatives that Gates has funded through its other programs. For example, colleges and universities have received science-related grants for health, medical science, and agricultural science research through Gates’ U.S., Global Health, and Global Development programs, respectively, while another recent grant was awarded to a college through the U.S. program towards developing a secondary curriculum “with the goal of inspiring [low-income] students to consider a STEM career as a pathway forward.”

Gates also approaches technology education through the lense of ensuring student access to a personalized, market-ready degree. To that end, Gates supports strategies that integrate technology into all facets of education. Colleges and universities consistently earn Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grants to develop and implement these next-generation learning platforms such as online remedial courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC's).

Gates also allocates a large portion of technology dollars towards projects that use data to make universities and nonprofits more effective. Higher ed institutions have also received funding to conduct research designed to better understand how K-12 students interact with technology, to improve teachers’ in-class use of technology, to improve information sharing, and to develop standards-aligned game-based learning initiatives.

Even before students get to postsecondary studies, Gates also has a College Ready program, which is directed at making sure K-12 students are prepared for academic life after high school. This program emphasizes improved assessments and professional development for teachers, work related to the Common Core standards, and innovative uses of technology as a teaching tool. To that end, Gates has worked with colleges and select technology providers to support the development of technologies that improve student retention. The foundation is also a key supporter of Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), a grantmaking organization created to support the development of cutting-edge learning tools. 

As is the case with much of Gates' grantmaking, its STEM-related grants are often awarded to larger academic institutions. That said, Gates has awarded hundreds of grants each year, ranging in size from a few hundred to millions of dollars, so there's room for grantees both large and small. STEM-related grants have generally fallen in the six figures, and can be reviewed via the foundation’s Awarded Grants database.

In general, Gates contacts organizations to solicit grant applications; the foundation does not typically accept unsolicited LOIs unless specified on its website. While this can make it difficult for first-time grantseekers to obtain funding, the foundation lists RFPs through its Grant Opportunities announcements, so this is a section of the site worth checking regularly. With awards ranging in size from a few hundred to millions of dollars, there's room for grantees both large and small.


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