Ryan LaHurd, James S. Kemper Foundation

TITLE: President and Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Higher education

CONTACT: rlahurd@jskemper.org, 312-332-3114

IP TAKE: If you cling to the idea that a college education is about personal growth and development, and not just about preparing for a career, LaHurd is your kind of funder.

PROFILE: Ryan A. LaHurd knows the challenges faced by administrators of liberal arts colleges, many of which are small private institutions that don't receive state funding and may lack major endowments. Before coming to the James S. Kemper Foundation, LaHurd was president of Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina, one of the more than two dozen colleges and universities across the country affiliated with the Evanagelical Lutheran Church in America.

LaHurd is president and executive director of the James S. Kemper Foundation in Chicago. Businessman James S. Kemper, founder of the Kemper Insurance Companies, created the foundation in the 1940s. The foundation devotes its philanthropy to education funding, consistent with its founder's belief that education represents a form of insurance that enables individuals to draw upon the knowledge and wisdom of others.

In the field of higher education philanthropy, Kemper focuses on support of liberal arts colleges, believing that a liberal arts education, supported by workplace preparation, is the ideal preparation for life and a career, especially in business. LaHurd, who has years of experience in liberal arts colleges, is the ideal person to help carry on that philosophy. Before becoming president of Lenoir-Rhyne College, a position he held from 1994 to 2008, LaHurd was vice president for academic affairs at Augsburg College in Minnesota. He also has been an English professor, teaching at Thiel College in Pennsylvania.

In terms of his own education, LaHurd holds a doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has done postdoctoral study in educational administration at Harvard University's Institute for Educational Management.

As James S. Kemper Foundation president, LaHurd oversees the foundation's two largest programs: the Kemper Scholars and Kemper Fellows programs. Kemper Scholars provides financial support, internship experience, and networking opportunities for deserving students from 16 liberal arts colleges across the country. Kemper Fellows prepares interested students for careers in arts management and administration by providing internships and mentoring opportunities at Chicago-based arts organizations.

LaHurd also oversees grantmaking activities that provide support to small undergraduate liberal arts colleges. Many of these grants have helped internship opportunities in arts and nonprofit administration, reflecting the funder's belief in the value of a liberal arts education, coupled with experience, to prepare young men and women for careers in business and organizational leadership.

Despite all the focus placed on higher education as a means to greater career opportunities no longer afforded by a high school education alone, LaHurd remains committed to the idea that higher education is not solely about career preparation. Rather, it is about personal growth and development, as he wrote on the foundation's blog. But gaining meaningful employment ranks a close second as the goal of a college education, he wrote. He supported this view by citing a 2013 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which a study concluded that employers most value internship and work experience far more than grades or field of study in new college graduates.

Small liberal arts colleges that strive to provide students with workplace experience opportunities which complement their education in the arts, sciences, and humanities are sure to find a supportive funder in LaHurd. Unfortunately, however, the economic recession of 2008-2009, as well as the sluggish recovery in the years since then, have taken their toll on the assets of the foundation.

The James S. Kemper announced on its website that, beginning in 2013, grant applications will be by invitation-only, with a larger emphsis being placed on foundation-initiated programs, such as the Kemper Scholars and Kemper Fellows programs.