Kellogg Foundation Pursues College Access Agenda - Higher Education

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Kellogg Foundation Pursues College Access Agenda

by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

When the W.K. Kellogg Foundation first approached a group of tribal college presidents in 1994 with a $23 million grant for a handful of their institutions, the tribal college leaders didn’t exactly trip over themselves to get the money.

“They basically [said], ‘That’s not how we want to do it,’” recalls Valorie Johnson, a longtime Kellogg program officer who approached the tribal college leaders with the grant offer.

“‘If there’s $10,’” she says the tribal college leaders told her at the time, “‘we want it to be split among all of us.’”

When then-Kellogg Foundation CEO Russ Mawby asked Johnson if the tribal college leaders were excited about the grant, she told him they were but that “there were a couple of things they wanted to change.”

“I thought [Mawby] was going to be upset, but he was quite the opposite,” Johnson says.

So much so that, instead of going forward with the initial plan, the foundation honored the tribal college leaders’ wish. They distributed the money among several tribal institutions, many of which were in a state of disrepair at the time.

Nearly two decades after that decision, the Native American Higher Education Initiative is still reaping benefits. Those familiar with the grant’s impact say the schools have seen improved campus infrastructure, increased student enrollment and a greater ability to leverage other funds.

“This gift from Kellogg really created a whole different level of credibility for the institutions and raised their status in the eyes of higher education in America,” says Richard B. Williams, president of the American Indian College Fund.

While now defunct, NAHEI’s success also served to solidify the relationship between the Kellogg Foundation and tribal colleges. For instance, as recently as April 5, the Foundation gave the American Indian College Fund $5 million to establish four early childhood development centers at tribal colleges. The program, titled Wakanyeja “Sacred Little Ones” Early Childhood Development Initiative, will span a five-year period and is intended to, among other things, prepare Native children for postsecondary success.

While the gift represents a prime example of the Kellogg Foundation’s ongoing commitment to American Indian higher education, it also mirrors a shift toward more forward-thinking philanthropy. A growing body of research suggests that the best time to prepare students for college is during early childhood.

“The college access focus is as strong as ever, even as we lift up our focus on early childhood education,” says Gregory Taylor, the foundation’s vice president of program strategy. “If you enter your education career unprepared, that means you’ve lost before you started.”

The foundation’s support of tribal colleges is just one of several efforts that the foundation has made over the past few decades to assist and elevate minority-serving institutions.

Another of the foundation’s diversity-related efforts is the ENLACE initiative for Hispanic-serving institutions. The initiative began in 1997 and involves 13 partnerships in seven states, mostly in the Southwest, California and Florida. There also are ENLACE sites in Chicago and the Bronx.

The foundation says it has invested more than $35 million in ENLACE, which stands for ENgaging LAtino Communities for Education (ENLACE).

“The foundation has had a pretty long history of support for young people, and the founder of the foundation—W.K. Kellogg—suggested that education was the process by which we improved one generation over another,” says John C. Burkhardt, a former foundation program officer who now serves as a professor of higher and postsecondary education at the University of Michigan. “That strong commitment has never wavered. Education continues to be one of the most important commitments that the foundation has honored.”

The history of the Kellogg Foundation and its support of education are vast and varied. But there is no way to separate the foundation from the fearless Depression-era business decisions of its founder.

W.K. Kellogg’s business strategies helped catapult his company to success even during the height of the Depression. It was around the same time, in 1930, that Kellogg formed his foundation with the simple declaration, “I’ll invest my money in people.”

That philosophy has governed the foundation’s work.

A review of tax returns for the Kellogg Foundation, which had net assets of $147.3 million at the end of fiscal 2009, reveals significant investments in organizations that work to improve outcomes for diverse groups in higher education.

For instance, the foundation awarded a $400,000 grant to the National Consortium for College Completion to increase college completion rates among low-income students.

Among the foundation’s more well known beneficiaries is Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone. Canada received a $250,000 grant from the Foundation in 2009 to support the organization’s educational, social and health programs for low-income youth.

The Kellogg Foundation also has been a major investor in various higher education institutions and efforts in its home state of Michigan.

For instance, Legacy Scholars, a Battle Creek-based organization whose mission is to provide educational, social and financial support to students from the Battle Creek Public and Lakeview School districts, got a grant of $390,980 from the foundation in fiscal 2009.

Taylor says such investments signify the foundation’s growing emphasis on making sure that those from what he termed “vulnerable backgrounds” are prepared for college. The purpose, he says, is focused and simple: “So that you graduate and complete high school with a viable opportunity around college.”

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