Kresge Foundation: Grants for STEM Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The Kresge Foundation is often mentioned with Lumina and Gates as a leading funder of technological advances in higher education. Education grants have often gone to help lower-income students get into, pay for, and succeed at the postsecondary level, but Kresge's Education Program also features two specific approaches that focus on innovation. Although these two strategies — Pathways to and through College and Strengthening Institutions — aren't exclusive to tech programs at colleges and universities, they've certainly placed a premium on projects that help higher education move into the 21st century. Funding has also occasionally gone to universities engaged with studying and planning for the effects of climate change.

IP TAKE: Kresge approach increasingly involves support for innovative digital learning projects such as online teaching and learning as well as digital financial planning tools.

PROFILE: The Troy, Michigan-based Kresge Foundation “works to expand opportunities in America's cities through grantmaking and investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, community development” in America’s urban areas. It also funds programs in South Africa.

In terms of the foundation’s education efforts, technology is certainly important to program staff. This is especially true for projects that are leveraged to help low-income students achieve postsecondary success. This has opened the door for creative ideas that address the needs of today’s college students, from online mentoring to advanced financial aid planning information tools.

Kresge’s Pathways to and through College subprogram is student-focused, and funding goes to help underserved students succeed in college. There are several areas in this subprogram that consistently receive technology grants: projects that improve student technology and those that advance teaching and learning.

A signature focus has been the development of digital tools that connect students with financial and academic planning information as well as technology training.  Large universities have often been major beneficiaries of Kresge’s giving, but that shouldn't discourage smaller institutions, because Kresge consistently supports community colleges and smaller universities.

The foundation also makes grants through its Strengthening Institutions subprogram in order to provide those organizations "the resources they need to expand their reach, impact, and ability to help students succeed." Although traditional administrative areas such as accreditation and curriculum development receive funding, Kresge also earmarks grant dollars for innovative projects "like e-counseling and online teaching."

It is worth noting that several recent higher ed grants were also awarded to universities in South Africa for purposes such as “increas[ing] access to education,” and especially through the initiative We Succeed, oriented towards improvements in “collection, analysis and integration of student data with research, information technology, academic development, planning and academic divisions” in order to increase student success rates. 

Another area in which universities have sometimes received support is through Kresge's Environment Program, which, as the foundation puts it, "helps communities build environmental, economic and social resilience in the face of climate change." While postsecondary funding through the environment program has not made up the majority of Kresge's Environment funding, big-name universities like Georgetown, Rutgers, the University of Hawai'i, and Notre Dame have received six-figure sums for research and planning efforts in line with the program's goals.

For those seeking more detailed information about Kresge’s grants, its searchable Grant Awards and Social Investments databases are user-friendly and helpful, as is its annual report.

Kresge can be an important funder in higher education, but openness to unsolicited inquiries varies. Grantseekers are encouraged to review the foundation's open requests for proposals, which are listed on the Apply for Funding page and also available if you sign up for the foundation’s email list. 


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