Douglas Wood, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Higher education

CONTACT: d.wood@fordfoundation.org212-573-5000

IP TAKE: A program officer with a background as a teacher and university administrator, Wood focuses his grantmaking on helping people in tough circumstances further their education.

PROFILE: Douglas Wood is a program officer in the Ford Foundation's Educational Opportunity and Scholarship sector. His grantmaking helps students make a successful transition from high school to college. It also focuses on raising college completion rates among vulnerable student populations.

As the Ford Foundation's bio of Wood puts it:

"Douglas Wood works on higher education issues, with an emphasis on the needs of students from poor and marginalized communities in the United States. His grant making focuses on helping students transition from high school to college and improving the college completion rates of underserved students. He brings to this position broad experience in PK-12, as well as higher education policy and administration.

Prior to joining the foundation in 2011, Douglas was associate dean of administration and planning at the Eugene Lang College of the New School for Liberal Arts. During the 10 years before coming to the foundation, he also worked as executive director and chief executive officer of the Tennessee State Board of Education; served as a member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; and was executive director and principal investigator of the National Academy for Excellent Teaching, an institute of the Teachers College, Columbia University.

Douglas began his career as a public school teacher. After five years of teaching, he worked as a research assistant at Harvard University, the Center for Collaborative Education-Metro Boston and the Annenberg Rural Challenge, among others. He then served as a course assistant at Harvard's JFK School of Government and a teaching fellow at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

Douglas holds an Ed.D and an Ed.M in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University, a master's degree in English from Middlebury College and a bachelor's degree in history from Wofford College, where he is a member of Phi Beta Kappa."

When Wood joined the Ford Foundation in mid-2011, he had the opportunity of "redoing and rethinking the entire initiative," as he explains in the video featured below. He interviewed university presidents, administrators, students, researchers, and representatives from a slew of higher education councils and organizations. Wood also reviewed the past 50 years of Ford's grantmaking and compared it to that of other large foundations in education philanthropy. From this research, he drew several conclusions about how Ford's grantmaking in education could focus on areas that other foundations ignored.

The Ford Foundation launched its newest higher education strategy in 2013, with three main pillars of work. They are Transforming Secondary Education, Higher Education for Social Justice, and More and Better Learning Time.

Wood hopes this new approach to higher education grantmaking will accomplish the following: 

  • Advance federal, state, and systemic policy changes that increase the number of low-income and first-generation students completing college degrees
  • Establish “Corridors of College Success” as an effective, scalable approach for enabling the most vulnerable populations to access college and complete postsecondary credentials that lead to quality employment and civic participation
  • Position community colleges at the center of place-based efforts to serve immigrants, veterans, the incarcerated, and the formerly incarcerated

Higher education philanthropy, Wood found, too often concentrates on the coasts—the states of California and New York, particularly— and shies away from areas in between. He believes that higher education giving would benefit from a more defined focus on adult learners, "immigrants, veterans, incarcerated and recently released ex-offenders who are first in their families to attend two- and four-year colleges." For this reason, reaching these populations is a central part of the theory of change that informs Ford’s higher education grantmaking, and Wood's.

Ford is one of the largest and best-known philanthropists in the nation, which means heavy competition for grants. But Wood pointed out that the foundation is always looking to expand its pool of grantees and is especially interested in organizations that are committed to equity for underserved populations. A historical commitment to these values is the common characteristic that Ford Foundation grantees share.

Wood’s main advice for grantseekers is to learn as much as they can about the foundation’s grant portfolio and strategy before arranging a telephone conversation or meeting with a program officer. Ford’s website has extensive information about its strategies, past grants, and funding guidelines, so prospective applicants have no excuse for not doing their homework ahead of time. This is essential, Wood said, because program officers’ time is very limited. By studying the foundation’s strategies and portfolio ahead of time, grantseekers can better ensure that meetings are productive and that time is not wasted for the program officer or prospective grantee.

VIDEO: