Big Philanthropy’s Role in Higher Education

Big Philanthropy’s Role in Higher Education

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Universities are receiving considerable support from foundations, much of it from family foundations of their wealthiest alumni. And at least the wealthiest among them also have significant internal resources of a sort not available in the elementary and secondary sector. How much that can insulate them from the pressure of advocacy we have seen in the schools is an open question. While it is difficult to extract figures for private-foundation research investments, it is fairly clear that the shift from learned foundations to strategic foundations has substantially reduced direct foundation investment in university research, previously the largest single category of investment. Disillusioned with the slow pace of most university research, grant makers are redirecting their research investments to nonacademic centers, think tanks, and the like, which depend on that revenue and are more likely than universities to produce what is wanted, and on time. Since World War II, STEM research financing has also become predominantly the responsibility of the federal government, so that private philanthropic support is less significant than it was 50 years ago.

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