Meeting Connects Missions of Foundations and Independent Colleges

​The 28th annual Conversation between Foundation Officers and College and University Presidents featured presentations from representatives of a wide range of foundations including the Henry Luce Foundation, Lilly Endowment, Inc., Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, W. M. Keck Foundation, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, and AARP Foundation.

Held at TIAA headquarters in New York City on October 10, foundation officers joined presidents and State Council executives to discuss “Connecting Missions: Foundations and Independent Colleges and Universities.”

Keynote speaker Christopher L. Coble, vice president for religion at Lilly Endowment Inc., provided a “glimpse of what we do, how we think about what we do, and how we make decisions about what we do” and indicated where Lilly’s funding is headed. In general, he said, Lilly supports the causes of religion, education, and community development in Indiana as well as some national initiatives. The foundation focuses on projects that benefit young people and that promote leadership education and financial self-sufficiency in the nonprofit charitable sector.

Christopher L. Coble presents from the podium
Christopher L. Coble

Coble said that at this uncertain time in the nation and in the world, Lilly’s hopes are to help students “explore the deep questions—how to live well in ways that use their gifts and contribute to the common good and how to discover their talents and vocations—how to choose their lives.” To help address these questions, Lilly draws upon the works of social commentators, sociologists, theologians, research and nonprofit organizations, and philosophers. Colleges and universities are critical to Lilly’s work, Coble emphasized. “The college experience is a threshold experience during which students sort out the choices in front of them.” But the youth of today, he asserted, “have so many choices that they often become paralyzed” or “they don’t have access to the resources they need to make choices that contribute to the greater common good.”

Lilly’s religion program seeks to enhance the vitality of Christian communities, provides leadership development programs for pastors, and supports efforts to interpret to the American public the role religion plays in shaping who we are as a nation. Through long-term support of CIC’s Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) program, Lilly hopes to “help the young tap into the wisdom of faith traditions as they make decisions about their future” and, more specifically, Coble said, “to encourage the young to explore vocations in Christian ministry and service.”

In a session on supporting exceptionally talented students from at-risk backgrounds, Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, described the scholarships and grants that the foundation awards to “encourage and support high-achieving students who work hard and have financial need.” The foundation distributes 235 new scholarships each year to provide financial assistance and academic support to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. For seniors in high school who plan to go to college and who are accepted as scholarship recipients, the foundation provides up to $40,000 per year through graduate school.

Harold O. Levy presents from the podium gesturing his hand
Harold O. Levy

The foundation also gives grants to “aligned institutions that provide programs that focus on exceptionally high-performing low-income kids.” Levy added, “If your college has such a program, we’re interested.” He also noted that the foundation is looking for visibility for its grants: “If you are doing something that is slightly wacky and has efficacy, we’re interested; if it has a 30 percent chance of being on the front page of the New York Times, we’re interested.” The foundation also “supports research that has bite…that can change the way the world thinks” and looks for leaders who will change the world.

Levy asked the presidents for help in finding high-ability low-income students. “Helping us connect with them would be significant. We are willing, for example to fund homeless kids, but we need to know where they are.” During the question-and-answer session, a president recommended working through CIC with its member colleges to help the Cooke Foundation identify such students. Levy agreed that CIC could help and said he would give it some thought.

Participant stands at a microphone asking a question of the speaker amidst seated participants
Mary B. Marcy, president of Dominican University of California, raised a question during a question-and-answer session.

In a session featuring foundations that support basic research, Daniel L. Goroff, vice president and program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Maria C. Pellegrini, executive director of programs for the W. M. Keck Foundation, described how their foundations seek to further education and research in the sciences.

Goroff said the Sloan Foundation makes grants to support original research and broad-based education related to science, technology, and economic performance; and to improve the quality of American life. The foundation is specifically interested in “breakthroughs in science, technology, and economics.” For example, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) is “one of the largest, most detailed, and most often cited astronomical surveys that has ever existed, with the goal of expanding our understanding of the large-scale evolution and structure of the universe, the formation of stars and galaxies, the history of the Milky Way, and the science behind dark energy.” SDSS represents the first example of “Big Data,” Goroff said.

Daniel Goroff presents from the podium
Daniel L. Goroff

Similarly, Pellegrini described the Keck Foundation’s support of science and engineering research; medical research; undergraduate education; and Southern California. Its most notable project is the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, home to the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes, which together form the world’s largest optical telescope. “We take high-risk and high-impact projects and fund them at the early stages before traditional science funding can be obtained. We are willing to take on projects that might fail.” Keck focuses its philanthropy for undergraduate education on institutions in the Midwest and West. Keck’s Undergraduate Education Program encourages new approaches and innovative curricula focused on engaged learning, service learning, and the integration of research into the curriculum. Pelligrini said “liberal arts projects are welcome along with science and technology projects.” She encouraged presidents to apply to the Keck Foundation and to submit their ideas for grants in the form of a single-page concept paper.

Maria Pellegrini presents from the podium
Maria C. Pellegrini

Dale T. ​Knobel of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations explained that its goal is to “strengthen America through philanthropic support for leadership, excellence and innovation in higher education, health and medicine, religious literacy and interfaith understanding, public educational media, and environmental stewardship.” Since 1952, the Foundations have given over 2,600 grants totaling more than $300 million to colleges and universities and other organizations. He said that CIC colleges and universities are “the Foundations’ sweet spot. We support CIC institutions to help them pilot ideas with small initial grants that sometimes grow into larger support.” Knobel noted, however, that the Foundations are reducing or suspending endowment grantmaking in 2016–2017 and are in the process of a strategic planning initiative to explore “where we can have an impact, who and what we fund, and what was successful in the past.”

Dale T. Knobel presents from the podium gesturing with his hands
Dale T. Knobel

In the final session of the day, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, former president of Wells College (NY), and a member of the CIC Board of Directors, described the foundation’s programs of interest to college and university presidents and announced a grant of $478,000 to CIC to launch a new project, Intergenerational Connections: Students Serving Older Adults (see “New Grant Initiative Will Foster Intergenerational Connections.”). She described AARP as a social change organization with 38 million members​ and the AARP Foundation is its charitable arm. The foundation actively works to increase connections with CIC colleges and universities, Ryerson emphasized. For example, the foundation already funds innovation laboratories, a college business plan prize competition, and campus kitchen projects (which use surplus food from dining halls to feed older adults) among other projects. AARP’s mission, she explained, is to find organizations, channels, and platforms to help the foundation “source the best ideas and put generations together for mutual benefits” to solve problems of isolation and poverty among older adults. CIC is one such organization that can help the foundation in its mission, Ryerson said. She urged presidents to help their faculty and staff members, students, and alumni become involved in the local community and to “share your collective ideas, talent, and wisdom… Together we can move the needle against poverty.”

Lisa Marsh Ryerson and Jake Schrum present from the head table
Presenter Lisa Marsh Ryerson and moderator Jake B. Schrum, president of Emory & Henry College (VA)

Remarks and handouts from some sessions are available online.


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