A brief history of Ford Foundation's support for scholarships and fellowships

At Ford, as at other philanthropic institutions, fellowships have long been central to established and emerging grant-making strategies. The earliest and largest commitments in this realm were to Ford’s Foreign Area Fellowship and International Training and Research Programs, which trained a generation of experts in international affairs active well into the 1990s. When Ford was beginning to build a program in arts and culture in the 1950s, the foundation began by supporting painters, composers, poets, theater directors, musicians, dancers, sculptors, and novelists. Creative arts fellowships enabled James Baldwin to write Another Country, Katherine Anne Porter to write Ship of Fools, and filmmakers such as James Blue to learn new film techniques from their international peers.

Of course, fellowships have always meant broadening access and widening opportunity for individuals. The National Merit Scholarship Program began with Ford seed money in 1955, to guarantee promising students the ability to attend college. By 1964, Ford underwrote an offshoot of the program specifically for minority students that continues to this day, administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, to train graduate students and postdoctoral students from diverse backgrounds.

Fellowships have been a crucial component of field-building endeavors at Ford. In the 1950s, Ford support encouraged the burgeoning of international studies, legal studies, urban economics, and business education. In the 1970s, Ford became the biggest funder of security and arms control studies and created public policy centers and scholarships to train future governmental and diplomatic leaders. The past four decades have seen the emergence of women’s studies, African American studies, Latin American studies, and sexuality studies—fields we now take for granted but that are in part the result of Ford’s commitment to fellowships in these areas.

Fellowships and academic exchange have been an entry into postconflict reconciliation and a first form of action taken as diplomatic relations approach normalization. For example, in the 1970s, the Ford Foundation launched the first academic exchange between American and Cuban scholars. In China, Ford fellowships have encouraged deeper study in economics, law, and international relations since 1979. The Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, launched in 2000, saw higher education as central to development, democracy, prosperity, and peace. Among many other projects, the initiative included fellowships for plant breeders using native crops and a women’s scholarship program. This global expansion advanced dramatically when the International Fellowship Program (IFP) began in 2001.

Though IFP ended in 2013, Ford’s commitment to education and opportunity continues through various facets of its work. The Funding Futures convening aims to recognize the many organizations that continue to work toward equal opportunities for all students through fellowships and scholarships and discuss different approaches, challenges, and successes of this work.