The 5 Largest Charitable Donations Ever Made to American Universities

A private liberal arts school in rural Kentucky called Centre College has announced a $250 million donation from the Brockman Charitable Trust. Centre College has an enrollment of just over 1,000 students and the gift puts them in the top 20 worldwide for the all-time biggest charitable donations made to a university. While there’s nothing better than a quarter billion dollars to put your university on the map,—go Praying Colonels!— it’s only chump change compared to the charity that more well-known colleges receive. We’ve compiled a list of the five largest donations to American universities; how they came about, who gave them, and how they shaped the university.

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5. Johns Hopkins University, $350 million from Michael R. Bloomberg

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $350 million to his alma mater earlier this year, his total lifelong donation to the university topped the $1 billion mark. His most recent donation will create cross-disciplinary programs and fund faculty appointments. The rest of the $35o million will help award 2,600 scholarships over the next 10 years.

4. Stanford University, $400 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

In 2001, the Hewlett Foundation donated nearly half a million in cash for the construction of Stanford’s endowment for the humanities and sciences and for undergraduate education. The donation was given in the name of William Hewlett, who founded the Hewlett-Packard corporation and was a Stanford alum.

3. Columbia University, $400 million from John W. Kluge

Billionaire Columbia alumnus John W. Kluge donated $400 million to the university in 2007, all of which was dedicated to financial aid and scholarships. Normally, this type of donation goes to the construction of buildings, but Kluge—who was able to attend Columbia because of financial aid—thought of a better investment. Per a New York Times report, Kluge said, “I’d rather by far invest in people than buildings. If I can infuse a mind to improve itself, that’ll pass on to their children, and to their children’s children.”

2. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, $460 million from the F.W. Olin Foundation

This mega donation was a special kind of gift, as it established the college in 1997. Olin is a private undergraduate college in Needham, MA and continues to be funded by the F.W. Olin Foundation—Frank Olin was a successful engineer who owned ammunitions factories. Olin College is unique in that the curriculum is built around hands-on engineering and design projects and no general education classes are offered.

1. California Institute of Technology, $600 million from Gordon and Betty Moore

The grandaddy of all higher education donations came from the Moores in 2001. Gordon, the co-founder of Intel, and Betty pledged the money in cash and stock over a 15 year period. Technically, half of the donation is coming from the Moore’s foundation and half from them personally. The money will be used to build on existing programs and to attract new faculty members and more grants.

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