Watson Chronicle


Education Updates and Features

Research on Philanthropic Giving Published in November

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Kevin McClure, assistant professor of higher education in the Watson College, and Ed.D. candidates Leah Frierson, Adam Hall and Kara Ostlund, have authored a paper titled, “Philanthropic Giving by Foundations to Higher Education Institutions: A State-Level Social Network Analysis.” The article was published in the journal Philanthropy and Education in November.

The article is the result of a two-year analysis of the flow of money from the top 25 philanthropic foundations to colleges and universities in North Carolina.

“There is extensive research on individual giving, but a gap in information on foundational giving,” McClure said. “Philanthropic foundations play a prominent role in U.S. higher education, and we wanted to take a closer look at the relationships between these organizations.”

The goal of the research was to examine foundation giving to higher education based on institutional characteristics such as size, student demographics and emphasis on research, and to identify which types of higher education institutions in the state are advantageously positioned to receive foundation money and which are struggling to compete.

McClure and his graduate students reviewed the individual tax records of foundations and university centers to document gifts. Social network analysis was then used to explore relationships between foundations and individual institutions.

As expected, findings suggest that top-tier research institutions such as UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State are advantageously positioned to compete for and receive significant foundation donations, McClure said. However, less elite institutions, such as small baccalaureate institutions, regional universities, and historically black colleges and universities, tend to struggle to compete.

During the next phase of research, McClure plans to look at challenges regional universities like UNCW face in the current competitive landscape. “We are interested in learning more about ways institutions in the middle of the pack can differentiate themselves to more effectively compete for foundation funding,” he said.


Philanthropic foundations have played a prominent role in U.S. higher education, especially since the latter half of the 20th century. However, there is a scarcity of empirical research on the relationship between philanthropic foundations and higher education institutions. The purpose of this study was to examine philanthropic giving by foundations to higher education institutions in the state of North Carolina utilizing social network analysis. Consistent with social network theory, the paper argues that institutions’ position in a network affords advantages with respect to competing for and securing foundation donations. Findings from the analysis suggest that highly selective and research-oriented institutions, such as Duke, Wake Forest, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, are centrally positioned in the network and, therefore, advantageously positioned to compete for and receive foundation donations. By contrast, baccalaureate institutions that serve larger numbers of students from marginalized racial and financial backgrounds are less advantageously positioned in the network.

About the Researchers

Kevin R. McClure is an assistant professor of higher education in the Watson College. He teaches and researches higher education finance, administration and leadership.

Leah Frierson, Adam Hall and Kara Ostlund are all doctoral students in the Leadership in Higher Education program at the Watson College.

Leah Frierson currently serves as the Assistant Director for the McNair Scholars Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Her research interests include support, access, and equity for under-represented and first-generation students in higher education.

Adam W. Hall is learning and talent development specialist in UNCW’s department of Human Resources. His research interests include institutional striving, human resources, and administration in higher education.

Kara L. Ostlund’s research interests include intercollegiate athletics and the experiences of veteran students in higher education.