Hearst Foundations: Grants for STEM Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The Hearst Foundations have a mission to “build healthy, productive, and inspiring lives.” They seek to achieve this by supporting well-established nonprofit organizations that operate in the realms of culture, education, health and social service.

IP TAKE: This funder's higher education focus is support of post-secondary programs that prepare students for the "global society," including significant support of STEM initiatives. The Hearst Foundations also prioritze underserved populations. Giving is almost entirely focused on universities that provide either STEM programming or STEM-related scholarship funds.

PROFILE: The goal of the Hearst Foundations, founded by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, is to “ensure that people of all backgrounds have the opportunity to build healthy, productive, and inspiring lives.”

First, to clear up why they are the Hearst Foundations, plural: Technically speaking, William Randolph Hearst established an east coast foundation in 1945 and a west coast foundation in 1948. Their missions were (and remain) the same, as are the granting stipulations. Whether your organization resides east or west of the Mississippi River is the only difference.

Regardless of what side of the Mississippi you're on, these foundations are committed to supporting post-secondary education, and recent giving shows significant support for STEM learning, and for the post-secondary students engaged in STEM learning.

This support comes from the foundations' Education pot, which supports "educational institutions demonstrating uncommon success in preparing students to thrive in a global society." It's easy to see where STEM fits in here, although they don't mention STEM learning specficially (in fact, they don't mention any academic pathways specifically). The foundations' focus in this funding pot is primarily higher education, though they still earmark support for "innovative models of early childhood and K-12 education, as well as professional development," so keep that in mind as your additional competition.

All told, Hearst gives approximately 30 percent of its grantmaking budget to Education programs throughout the U.S. You must have an annual operating budget of at least $1 million to be eligible. The foundations say 80 percent of grantees in its Education category have budgets over $10 million; that makes sense when you see the sampling of recent grantees below, all of of whom are post-secondary institutions.

As you might expect, given the operating budgets of eligible organizations, the Hearst Foundations look for significant scale. They want to fund organizations that serve “large demographic and/or geographic constituencies.” They are prefer organizations that engage with underserved populations. In fact, recent giving shows that this is the dominant throughline in STEM higher education giving for the foundations, especially when it comes to programs that are scholarship funds.

The Hearst Foundations want STEM programs that differentiate themselves from their peers—not just in an approach to programming, but also in terms of results. They state as their priority organizations that “enable engagement by young people and create a lasting impression.” The foundations also place importance on results by expecting “evidence of sustainability” for programs beyond their own support of them.

The foundations regularly give both program and—more notably—capital support (and a limited amount of general and endowment support) to 501(c)3 groups.

Recently granted STEM Higher Education programs include:

  • $200,000 to the University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX) "to create The Foundry, a 'makerspace' that brings together students and faculty from many disciplines to generate new ideas, research, art, and inventions"
  • $150,000 to the Massachussets Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) "toward the Center for Bits and Atoms, to support its “FAB: The Game” project for the advancement of digital fabrication skills and STEM learning"
  • $100,000 to Central Washington University (Ellensburg, WA) "to support the S-STEM Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program"
  • $100,000 to the University of California Riverside (Riverside, CA) "to provide scholarships for graduate Teacher Education Program students of color with a STEM focus"
  • $100,000 to Long Island University (Brookville, NY) "to provide scholarships to a cohort of five low-income STEM majors at LIU Brooklyn."

Remarkably for a funder working on such a large playing field, the Hearst Foundations has an open online application process. They do, however, alert potential new applicants that 80 percent of their funding goes to previous recipients. On the flipside of this daunting statistic, if you do make the cut for initial funding through the Hearst Foundations, the odds are in your favor that you’ll continue receiving it. But you’ll have to wait at least three years until that happens; the foundations stipulate that as the “waiting period” between grants.

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