Our History

Investing in New England’s future since 1990

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, New England’s largest philanthropic organization focused solely on education, has worked for over 30 years to help our region prosper by preparing all of its learners for success. 

We’re proud of the milestones we’ve set, and the students and educators we’ve reached, since our founding in 1990. 


The Nellie Mae Corporation (NMC), a nonprofit education-financing company, creates the Fund for Education, pioneering philanthropy within the student loan industry.


Over these eight years, the Fund for Education provides $5 million in support, advancing more than 300 education programs throughout the region.


NMC is sold to Sallie Mae (SLM Holding), creating the endowment for the Nellie Mae Foundation. Grants are provided to improve underserved student access to higher education.


Nellie Mae Foundation becomes the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, launching four strategic initiatives: Adult Learning, College Prep, Minority High Achievement, and “Out-of-School Matters!”


To better achieve its mission of improving outcomes for underserved learners, the Foundation shifts its focus from college accessibility to education systems change.


The Foundation shifts its focus to promoting the integration of student-centered approaches to learning at the high school level. The Foundation’s grantmaking focuses on four initiatives: District-Level Systems Change, State-Level Systems Change, Research & Development, and Public Understanding and Demand.


As a result of setting an ambitious target of ensuring that 80% of New England students are college and career ready by 2030, the Foundation launches four strategic initiatives that set out to advance the 2030 target: Build Public Understanding and Demand; Build Educator Ownership, Leadership and Capacity; Develop Effective Systems Designs; and Advance Quality and Rigor of Student-Centered Practices.

In 2017, the Foundation started on a journey to examine our work, culture, and practices through the lens of racial equity. We realized that if we truly wanted to prepare all of New England’s young people to succeed, we needed to focus on where the need and opportunity gaps were. This meant thinking more intentionally about how our organization works to dismantle the structural, racial inequities that exist in our public education system.


As a result of this learning journey, in 2019 the Foundation adopted a new Mission, Vision and Values statement, and onboarded a Community Advisory Group — comprised of teachers, students, parents, community organizers, and others, in guiding us in the next stage of our grantmaking strategy.

In January 2020, the Foundation announced its new grantmaking strategy focused on advancing racial equity in public education.