Spring 2012 – Editor’s Introduction

An overview of the Spring 2012 issue on giving to colleges and universities

“If any millionaire is at a loss to know how to accomplish great and indisputable good with his surplus,” wrote Andrew Carnegie in 1889, then higher education “is a field which can never be fully occupied, for the wants of our universities increase with the development of our country.”

Carnegie’s advice reflects an abiding concern among American philanthropists. Certainly it represented an enthusiasm of his era. Many of the nation’s greatest universities were launched by private individuals during his lifetime: Rice, Stanford, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Chicago. But long before Carnegie’s words appeared in print, the United States boasted a wide range of colleges and universities, many bearing the names of the generous individuals who created them, from Cornelius Vanderbilt and Ezra Cornell to Elihu Yale and John Harvard.

Higher education remains an enormously popular beneficiary of American philanthropy. In 2011, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 8 of the 12 largest charitable donations from individuals went to higher education. According to a report from the Council for Aid to Education, the total philanthropic support for higher education in 2011 came to $30.3 billion.

In recognition of this longstanding, widespread, and deep commitment, this issue of Philanthropy celebrates the donors who support colleges and universities.

  • It is remarkable that, in survey after survey, at least 10 of the world’s 20 best universities bear the names of private American citizens who have used their wealth to create world-class institutions of higher learning. Private, voluntary support has long been a source of great strength for American higher education. In our Spring 2012 cover story, managing editor Evan Sparks highlights three donors and the universities they recently created: the F. W. Olin College of Engineering, Ave Maria University, and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
  • Supporting higher education is certainly popular—but it is also frustrating. Colleges and universities are complicated entities, with a range of (often conflicting) missions. Donor advisor Fred Fransen offers 11 tips for how to give intelligently to higher education. “Give your giving a little forethought,” writes Fransen, “and the joy you experience when you hand over the check will be exceeded by the greater and longer-lasting satisfaction of watching your investment pay ever-increasing annual dividends.”
  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation was one of the lead funders of the OpenCourseWare (OCW) movement, the widespread, web-based publication of university-level core academic content. OCW provides syllabi, reading lists, lecture notes, problem sets (and solutions), a selection of video lectures, and exams. OCW users receive no credit and have no access to faculty. What they get, explains AEI research fellow Andrew Kelly, is the entire curriculum of many of the world’s best universities, at their fingertips, free of charge.
  • Jeff Sandefer is on a mission to reinvent the MBA. A decade ago, he co-founded the Acton School of Business, which offers a crash-course MBA in entrepreneurship. Acton students are trained to start and grow a business, to think like an entrepreneur, and to take seriously their obligation to live a life of meaning. After its first year, the Princeton Review ranked Acton as one of the nation’s top three business schools in terms of student quality, teacher quality, and overall experience. Ten years later, Sandefer is thinking about the next revolution: how to take the Acton experience and deliver it online.
  • At this moment, they are training America’s finest young people. On the bluffs overlooking the Hudson, near the banks of the Severn, and in the shadows of Rampart Range, America’s military academies are molding the leaders of tomorrow. A new generation of philanthropists is increasingly interested in funding their efforts. Roundtable vice president Karl Zinsmeister surveys these donors, asking what motivates their giving—and how it can be most effective.
  • “Desh” Deshpande is bringing the market to MIT’s labs. Research at MIT is conducted by some of the smartest people on earth—but they’re not necessarily entrepreneurs. That’s where Deshpande stepped in. With a $20 million donation, he created the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. The goal of the center? To connect researchers with entrepreneurs, thereby finding the best (and most profitable) applications for the new technologies. It’s all part of Deshpande’s effort, write Michael Bishop and Matthew Green, to take great ideas out of the ivory towers and bring them into the real world.
  • And finally, Juan Williams of Fox News reviews a new book on the historic collaboration between Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington. Together, the two men—one the leader of Sears Roebuck; the other, a former slave—built more than 5,000 schools for African Americans throughout the segregated South. “Stephanie Deutsch has crafted a compelling story,” concludes Williams, “one that will inspire today’s philanthropists who seek to emulate a partnership so seemingly improbable, and so impossibly successful.”

In this issue, we also feature a short article on donor-led efforts to fund publication of Great Books. And Adam Meyerson considers the philanthropy that made possible the work of James Q. Wilson.

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