Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the American foundation based in Michigan, will unveil details of the plan at a celebration event in Johannesburg tonight attended by representatives of South African universities and Inyathelo.

Kresge has made grants in South Africa since 1989. Between 2005 and 2011, the foundation invested almost $19 million to support South African higher education, focusing on institutional development and advancement. The new commitment builds on the foundation’s efforts in the United States to improve access to higher education and help students succeed academically.

“In 2011, we engaged dozens of South African higher education leaders to determine how Kresge might continue our commitment to higher education,” says Rapson. “The overwhelming consensus was that we could be most helpful by replicating our American focus with modifications to fit South Africa’s specific needs.”

Enrollment at South African universities has nearly doubled since the end of Apartheid in 1994, but there are chronic challenges including disappointing graduation rates. In the U.S., Kresge’s Education Programme works with other funders and non profit partners to reduce the barriers to higher education and provide supports to help ensure students earn degrees.

“We believe that increasing the number of college graduates in the U.S. can fuel prosperity and help low-income and undeserved people change the trajectory of their lives,” says Bill Moses, who directs Kresge’s Education Programme. “We think universities may serve as an even more critical driver of democracy and economic development in South Africa.”

The new effort, “Promoting access and success at South African universities,” has two prongs. The first prong seeks to strengthen pathways to and through universities, especially for students traditionally under represented in higher education in South Africa. The second prong seeks to build the advancement capacity of universities so that they can focus more resources on priorities including improving graduation rates.

“In a climate of declining government support, many South African university officials have told us that tapping into private wealth and generosity enhances their ability to better serve students and work to improve graduation rates,” says Moses.
Inyathelo’s Shelagh Gastrow echoes that sentiment: Stronger advancement skills are critical to meet the challenges of declining government support and improving student success.”

As part of its continuing advancement capacity-building effort, Kresge plans to fund a new partnership with Inyathelo and Rhodes University to develop a post-graduate diploma in advancement. Kresge is also offering to fund some continuing assistance to universities in the original advancement group:Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Pretoria, University of the Western Cape and the University of the Witwatersrand.

Planning for the primary focus of Kresge’s South Africa work, promoting more effective ways to improve post secondary student success, has already begun. Future Kresge investments will likely focus on helping universities better support students not well prepared to do university-level work. Possible grants might include analysis of student engagement in post secondary education, and assisting universities to use data-driven approaches to determine what interventions are most effective at improving university graduation rates- and why.

“Kresge believes the conditions playing out in South Africa mirror many of the world’s most critical issues: the growing divide between rich and poor, transitions to democracy in formerly repressive societies, and the effect of globalization on developing countries,” says Rapson. “We hope our renewed commitment to South African higher education will buttress one of the world’s most influential nations as it seeks to strengthen both democracy and its global competitiveness. We think South Africa has much to teach the world.”