This paper examines the mechanisms through which higher education institutions (HEIs) explore, focusing on organizational status and institutional logic. We hypothesize that the exploration mechanisms differ depending on the public and private sectors. Revisiting middle-status conformity, we assert that the U-shaped relationship is stronger for private HEIs than public HEIs, as private HEIs are more concerned about status. We also argue that the congruence of institutional logics between HEIs and their funding partners foster exploration based on the sense of security. In contrast, when HEIs receive funding from partners with incongruent logics, they explore less because of their tendency to avoid additional uncertainty. We empirically test our hypotheses using data on US HEIs between 2014 and 2020. Our results demonstrate that a U-shaped relationship between status and exploration is stronger for private HEIs. Moreover, non-market funding providers, whose institutional logic congruent with public HEIs yet incongruent with private HEIs, increase the exploration of public HEIs and decrease the exploration of private HEIs. By integrating theories on organizational learning, status, and institutional theory, our study contributes to a nuanced understanding of the differences between public and private HEIs with respect to exploration.