Philanthropy: Advocacy Philanthropy In Higher Ed, Too
We all know about advocacy philanthropy in K-12 education, but perhaps it's not so well known that much the same is happening in higher education, too. There, the push from Gates (and Lumina) for a focus on college completion -- a “direct and unapologetic desire to influence policy and practice" -- is loved and loathed in roughly equal measure, according to an April article by Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Ed about some new research presented at AERA by to researchers Hall and Thomas. (Lederman also takes the opportunity to throw some shade at trade competitors EdWeek and the Chronicle, who take Gates and /or Lumina funding to cover specific issues.)
Everyone agrees there is tremendous action and momentum in higher education right now-- "the closest thing to a national higher education strategy the country has had since the G.I. Bill" -- but is it too narrow, homogenized, and focused on the right issues? Are there enough independent voices? Are intermediaries too beholden to give candid advice? The report lists think tanks and other intermediaries that received funding from these hands-on foundations, and raises lots of questions about the vertical integration that's been created (including foundation-run intermediaries, media partnerships, and direct work with state and federal policymakers rather than relying on pre-existing organizations in the field).
Of course, whether this approach is a good thing or not depends as much on what you think of the agenda as much as what you think of the consolidation of efforts. Robert Wood Johnson did much the same thing around antismoking efforts, and I bet you didn't bat an eye about that. A November 2011 article by Lederman if you're interested in reading more: Consensus or Groupthink?