Beyoncé’s recently announced Formation Scholars program signals a new trend in philanthropy. Instead of just writing a check to a university, Queen Bey targeted specific universities and subjects and chose them as places to make a philanthropic investment.
Beyoncé wants to “encourage and support young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious, and confident.” To that end, she created four scholarships to be awarded to one female student each at Berklee College of Music, Parsons School of Design, Howard University, and Spelman College who are pursuing studies in “creative arts, music, literature, or African-American studies.”
The scholarships are reportedly worth $25,000 per school per year. Her gifts are going to have an appreciable impact on the students who receive them, but they won’t transform higher education. And that’s okay—her intent is to support young women in specific fields of study, not to reform academic standards or curricula. But higher education reformers and philanthropists can still learn a few things from the Lemonade star.
Donors should think twice before they give blindly to college and university general funds. Beyoncé’s scholarships are a high-profile example of targeted philanthropy in action, in which donors make their values and visions clear, and write their checks accordingly.
But donors don’t need to do this work alone. The Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR) exists to help donors maximize the impact of their gifts to higher education, no matter their financial position. In fact, informed donors with smaller budgets might get more for their philanthropic dollar than Beyoncé will. Her scholarships, though generous, will only partially pay for one semester at her chosen schools. FAR brings together like-minded donors who share a commitment to academic quality and intellectual integrity. Donors who choose to give through FAR’s College Funds or Special Purpose Funds can pool their resources and thereby get more for their philanthropic dollar than they could as individuals alone.
Thus, donors can make gifts with the same strategic approach as Beyoncé—but their gifts could have an even wider reach. Only four women can be Formation Scholars. Donor-funded programs or academic centers (like those featured in ACTA’s Oases of Excellence) can add breadth and variety to countless students’ educational experiences.
Funding education centers offers a broad range of benefits. Beyond improving the education of all the students who will take advantage of the enriching programming that such institutes provide, these centers can function as change agents for academe. Most colleges today vary little in terms of ideological composition and are too often plagued core curricula that are either minimal or non-existent. An academic center that focuses on under-represented subjects—like Great Books, the American Founding or free-market economics —will increase intellectual diversity and teach students about important topics that may not be covered in the curriculum.
Like Beyoncé, donors have the opportunity to make gifts that truly reflect their visions for academe. They can be agents of change within American colleges and universities, fighting to restore academic rigor and intellectual pluralism to campus. And higher education sorely needs them.