The Richard King Mellon Foundation has allocated $2.5 million in grants to 12 regional colleges and universities to help the schools to reopen safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and to expand their online learning offerings.

“Our regional colleges and universities are essential engines for growth – for the students who learn there, the people who work there, and for the local communities whose economies we know they so powerfully impact,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “The Foundation has partnered with each of these schools on projects over the years. And we want to be there for them now, at this critical hour, as they navigate the complex logistics of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want to help them to reopen safely this fall, in whatever manner they judge best – in-person, online or both – to restart those academic and economic engines as fully as safely possible.”

Reiman said the Foundation is focused, not just on the essential importance of higher education to students, but also on the powerful economic impact of colleges and universities on local businesses, particularly in more remote communities.

“For many local businesses, their neighboring college is like the sun – and if that sun goes dark, there’s no backup generator,” said Reiman. “We want to do everything we can to keep those colleges running.”

Reiman said the grants, capped at $250,000 per school, are purposefully designed by the Foundation to be flexible. The funding can be used for COVID-19 testing expenses; personal protective equipment; health-care costs; technology costs necessary for enhanced virtual learning; or financial aid for the many students experiencing extraordinary need.

The grant monies cannot be used for overhead expenses, and each grant is contingent on a dollar-for-dollar match by each school. “Our hope is that by creating a challenge grant program, we can assist you in attracting additional support” for the extraordinary costs of reopening in the COVID-19 pandemic, Reiman said in his letter to the 12 college and university presidents, informing them of the grants.

Grants of $210,000 were awarded to: Allegheny College; Carlow University; Carnegie Mellon University; Chatham University; Duquesne University; Grove City College; Robert Morris University; Susquehanna University; Washington & Jefferson College; and Westminster College. The Community College of Allegheny County applied for and received a $150,000 grant. An additional grant to another school is pending.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Foundation awarded emergency operating support grants to three additional Western Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning: Saint Vincent College ($250,000), Seton Hill University ($100,000) and the Westmoreland County Community College ($100,000).  The Foundation also upped its commitment to the Pittsburgh Promise higher-education scholarship initiative, awarding an additional $1.325 million to that effort, to help the 1,500 students in the program to adapt to the added challenges of the pandemic.

In all, the Richard King Mellon Foundation so far has allocated $25 million to COVID-19 relief and mitigation efforts.


Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Foundation’s 2019 endowment was $2.7 billion and its Trustees in 2019 awarded 172 grants totaling $129 million, focused on the Foundation’s strategic priorities: economic development, education, environmental conservation and human services.

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