June 1, 2007

College nets record gift for financial aid

The University announced Wednesday the donation of $100 million to benefit College financial aid over 15 years, in what amounts to the largest gift in U of C history. The donation, given by an anonymous College graduate, is expected to substantively improve the financial aid packages of nearly a quarter of undergraduates enrolled in the College.

“This gift ensures that the most talented students, no matter their economic circumstances, will have the opportunity to benefit from the uniquely powerful and rigorous Chicago education,” said President Robert Zimmer in a press release.

The aid package will be targeted at low- and medium-income families that have demonstrated financial need, according to Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of College Enrollment. Students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year can expect the “Odyssey Scholarships” to cover around $24,000 in expenses over their time in the College—the amount that low-income students are currently expected to take out in loans—while families making between $60,000 and $75,000 will see half of that amount covered. The U of C currently spends about $46 million a year in undergraduate scholarship aid, and the program is expected to add $5.2 million in 2008–2009, with an increase in subsequent academic years.

“From our standpoint in admissions, it can be very hard to recruit low-income students, who are often from family situations where they don’t have much financial support to come to a place like this,” Behnke said. “This is a transformative gift, one that will make a significant impact in our ability to market the school and get students interested in Chicago.”

The University has made an increased push to recruit low-income and minority students in recent months, including a redesigned advertisement campaign and the announced shift to the Common Application.

“I think [the fund] will be a dramatic change; it will affect about a quarter of our students and about half of students on financial aid and draw people who are generally not even considering places like us,” Behnke said.

In conjunction with the gift, the University announced the creation of a new initiative aimed at raising an additional $300 million to further endow undergraduate financial aid and the Odyssey Scholarship program.

“This type of gift sends a message about the importance of scholarship endowment in general, and with the program part of a larger initiative, a gift of this size will naturally attract more attention to the issue, and it is our hope other people will step forward and present substantial gifts,” said John Boyer, dean of the College.

The gift also includes a component to fund a summer enrichment program, in which 50 students will be invited to campus before their first year to spend eight weeks working with faculty and familiarizing themselves with the University. The students attending the summer program will additionally receive a grant equivalent to what they would make in a year-long work-study program.

The donation comes on the heels of recent announcements of major gifts to benefit a new south campus arts center and the Graduate School of Business (GSB). Although the University’s exact fundraising progress is unclear, since the total amount of the GSB gift was undisclosed, this most recent donation should put the U of C close to, if not past, its stated Chicago Initiative goal of fundraising $2 billion.

“Since the College was smaller in the ’50s, our reunion classes are not as large as our peers’, we’ve had fewer alumni to work with, and so to get these larger gifts is really exciting,” said Boyer, who wrote a book about fundraising throughout the University’s history. “Obviously, I’m delighted that we have had College alums stepping up because it shows they believe in the power of the education in the College.”

Little is known about the alumnus behind the donation, except that he graduated from the College in the early 1980s. In a written statement, the donor alluded to a tumultuous but eventually successful life guided by lessons learned during his time at the U of C; his naming of the scholarships after Homer’s epic seems a tribute to that.

Possible identities of the mystery donor include Brady Dougan (A.B. ’81, M.B.A. ’82), the CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston and CEO–elect of the worldwide Credit Suisse Group; Andrew Alper (A.B. ’80, M.B.A. ’81), a former managing director at Goldman Sachs and chairman of the Chicago Initiative; and Jon Winkelried (A.B. ’81, M.B.A. ’82), the president and co-chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs who has already given $5 million to the University in endowed professorships.

“I am giving this gift to the University of Chicago because I believe it had a profound effect on my life and in particular on allowing me to survive untold failures and persevere in mad adventures that have rewarded me with the financial resources to make this gift,” said the donor in a written statement. “I give this gift in the hopes that future generations of students will not be prevented from attending the College because of financial incapacity and may graduate without the siren of debt distracting them from fulfilling unremunerative dreams.”