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Trends in Education Philanthropy: A Q&A with Celine Coggins (Back to the Future)

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trends in Education Philanthropy: A Q&A with Celine Coggins, Executive Director of Grantmakers for Education 

SCG's Back to the Future blog series is a collection of conversations with philanthropic leaders exploring the key trends that shape the contours of the future. This series aims to expand our thinking on a variety of issue areas, as well as provide funders with the insights necessary to maximize their impact. 

At our 2019 Annual Conference: Foresight Philanthropy, we welcomed Celine Coggins, founder of Teach Plus and current Executive Director of Grantmakers for Education, to lead the panel “Redefining Education Philanthropy: Trends and Implications for Future Learners.” Celine shared key headlines from Grantmakers for Education’s latest edition of “Trends in Education Philanthropy: Benchmarking 2018-19” a report tracking the shifting priorities of the education funding community over the past ten years. Alongside leaders from First 5 LA, College Future Foundation, and the California Community Foundation, Celine outlined the profound investment shifts happening at every level in education and explored the future direction of education policy. 

We sat with Celine after the panel to delve deeper into the report’s highlights and to discuss critical opportunities for education funders. 


What are the biggest shifts and trends happening in education philanthropy?

CC: To start, we’re seeing significant growth in post-secondary education followed by a growing interest in early childhood education. Our 2018 survey results show that 56% of surveyed funders are now funding postsecondary education, a 10% increase since 2015 and the largest increase in the topic areas we surveyed. Regarding early childhood, we found that one-third of survey respondents are funding this area and three-out-of-five of those funders expect to increase their giving in the next two years. While this only accounts for 4% of total education funding, it is the topic that is projected to see the most growth of all the areas surveyed. In effect, we’re seeing an increased interest in funding the bookends of K-12 education. Funders are more interested in preparing learners for success before kindergarten and are prioritizing postsecondary in order to prepare learners for an evolving labor force. 

Second, when you look exclusively at the K-12 space, you’ll notice a funding shift away from new school models, core academics like curriculum standards and assessments, and teacher preparation in the classroom. There is now a movement toward “the whole child” which includes wraparound supports, more family engagement, and social and emotional learning initiatives that center the “whole learner.” Although this accounts for only 3% of reported education funding, respondents identified social and emotional learning as the trend that could have the largest potential impact on education over the next five years. 

And third, there has been a tremendous loss of faith in the government, especially the federal government, in providing leadership and funding on education issues. In our 2018 survey, only 17% of respondents held a “moderately favorable” view of the policy environment at the federal level (the majority fell in the unfavorable category, a small percentage had no opinion). There are many reasons for this move away from the federal government, but what this means is that funders are now interested in focusing their grantmaking at the local level. 


What are three key opportunities for education funders in the next five years?

CC: The rapid growth in the post-secondary space has transformed it into a magnet for new funders. The sheer number of dollars going into it right now —  42% of total grant dollars —  is creating the potential for system-level levers to be pulled. I think that’s very promising. 

We're also seeing good research on early childhood education and the need for social and emotional learning to help students address traumas they’ve experienced and to think critically about racial injustice and bias. Although we’re seeing a high number of funders stepping into these areas, they’re entering at a fairly low-dollar threshold which isn’t enough to change the system. As more people learn about those spaces, I think there’s an opportunity for funders to work together to achieve greater impact. 

Finally, I think there's an opportunity to reflect on the field of education philanthropy as a whole. What have we learned from the last stage that has led to the kind of dramatic shifts that we've seen over the past few years? Without actually learning from these changes, we're not going to reach the level of coherence and system-level strategy that we need in order to move into the next phase.


What impact are education funders having in our evolving workforce?

CC: Education funders are actually really interested in this topic. Alongside postsecondary, workforce and career readiness funding also experienced significant growth in 2018. Coupled together, these two funding areas currently make up almost half of all education funding. 

One reason for this trend is that the Corporate Social Responsibility arms of many private enterprises are looking at the current labor force and saying, "this workforce is not adequate to the kind of technical challenges of the job that I'm looking to fill." Take for example, IBM’s Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) training model which grew out of these insufficiencies. Their Pathways model starts at high school and continues into college to help equip individuals with the right skills to enter their workforce. We’re beginning to see a lot of push in this high school to college pathway. 


What are some key ways you’ve seen education funders collaborate with their stakeholders?

CC: The short answer is that there are two ways: one is by learning and one is by doing. I think oftentimes we try to jump to the doing without conducting a deep analysis of what we know or how we’re working together. What are the constraints that exist within our own philanthropic organization? What are the things that our trustees care about and struggle with? There’s an opportunity to talk across differences and to learn how to learn about these topics together. Those are the type of conversations that often don’t happen when we jump too quickly into action. In regards to the doing, I think there are many opportunities for funders to collaborate and take action, including figuring out how to share power, how to listen to communities, and how to ensure that grantmaking gets done in a way that really resonates with the communities they’re working in. I really love the efforts around uplifting student’s voices in the K-12 space and figuring out how we can reach a place of having authentic voices in the conversation.


As we move into the next decade, what are your hopes for philanthropists in the education sectors?

CC: As a sector, we do very little with the science of learning. When we train educators, we do very little with brain development: how learning happens, how bias forms, and how trauma impacts learning. I would hope that we push for educators to be trained in those things. I would hope that philanthropy becomes a standard-bearer in saying, "Education is a field that has a scientific basis, and we need to make sure that this scientific framework is being incorporated in every school, for every kid."


If you would like to explore these trends in greater detail, visit Grantmakers for Education’s website and access their full report.


Other Back to the Future Blogs: 

"Nothing Without Us": SCG's Journey to Inclusive Design

The Future of Art Funding: A Conversation with Vijay Gupta and James Herr

What is the Future of Work?: A Conversation with Tracie Neuhaus and Michele Prichard 

Designing the Future of Health: Blue Shield of California Foundation’s Strategic Foresight

Trista Harris' 2020 Philanthropy Predictions


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