Alum gives Harvard $150 million. Who are Top 5 donors to US colleges?

Harvard will receive an eye-popping $150 million from alum Kenneth Griffin of Citadel – its largest gift ever. It's generous, certainly, but 44 others have given even more. Here are the Top 5.

Fred Prouser/Reuters/File
Kenneth Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel, speaks at the 2011 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., May 2, 2011. Harvard alum Griffin is giving his alma mater $150 million, largely to support financial aid.

Harvard alumnus Kenneth Griffin is giving his alma mater $150 million, largely to support financial aid. It’s the largest gift ever received by Harvard College, the undergraduate program at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. But, for all the zeroes it includes, it's not the largest ever for a college or university.

First, though, some background on Mr. Griffin's gift and what he hopes it will achieve. “It is extremely important that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to challenge themselves, learn to solve complex problems, and ultimately better our world,” Griffin said in a statement published Wednesday in the Harvard Gazette. “My goal with this gift is to help ensure that Harvard’s need-blind admission policy continues.”

Just a year after earning his bachelor’s degree in economics in 1989, Mr. Griffin started the financial firm Citadel. The hedge-fund management company’s success has paved the way for Griffin to celebrate his approaching 25th class reunion with this major gift, which will help as many as 800 undergraduates every year through direct scholarships and matching funds.

Over the past 10 years, about 13 percent of gifts to higher education have been earmarked for scholarships, says Ann Kaplan, director of a survey of college gifts conducted by the Council for Aid to Education in New York.

Griffin's generous gift, though, is not the largest donation for higher education in America – not by a long shot. Historically, 44 other gifts of $150 million or more have been made to US colleges and universities, according to a list updated regularly by the Chronicle of Higher Education

Here’s a look at the top five donations and their donors – including who got the money and for what purpose. As you'll see, some gifts span multiple institutions.

1. $1 billion from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The money set up the Gates Millennium Scholars Program in 1999. Each year it gives scholarships to 1,000 minority students who have a significant financial need, so that the students can attend the college of their choice. It also provides leadership training and supports graduate education in targeted fields. So far, it has awarded more than $760 million, and at least 10,000 recipients have completed degrees.

2. $600 million from Gordon and Betty Moore and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This donation went to the California Institute of Technology, a private school in Pasadena. Mr. Moore, a cofounder of Intel Corp., earned his PhD in chemistry from CalTech in 1954. He announced the gift in 2001 as a way to help keep the university in Pasadena, Calif., at the forefront of science and technology. It is to be dispensed over 15 years.

3. $460 million from the F.W. Olin Foundation. This gift established the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, which opened in the fall of 2002 in Needham, Mass. Franklin Olin grew up in lumber camps in Vermont. Though he did not have a high school diploma, he qualified for Cornell University through self-instruction. After majoring in civil engineering, he founded the company now known as the Olin Corp. His philanthropic foundation, set up in 1938, has contributed to more than 50 colleges and universities. In 1997, the F.W. Olin Foundation committed $400 million to start an engineering college that would equip graduates with business and entrepreneurial skills and a sense of the social, political, and economic context of their work.

4. $400 million from Eli and Edythe L. Broad. This sum went to The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, which promotes collaboration in genomics and biomedical research. The Broads originally gave $100 million to set up the institute in 2004, and gave $100 million again a few years later. When it proved successful, they gave the additional $400 million in 2008 to endow it as a permanent research institution. Eli Broad said, during a ceremony announcing the gift, that the investment amounted to “a $600 million bet that the Broad will be the place where the greatest scientific discoveries take place.” 

5. $400 million from John Kluge. In 2007, Mr. Kluge, at the age of 92, pledged the money to Columbia University, his alma mater, through his estate. It is earmarked for financial aid to undergraduate and graduate students at the New York university. He died three years later. An immigrant from Germany, Kluge eventually served in the US military and became chairman and president of Metromedia. The giant communications company included everything from the Harlem Globetrotters to mobile telephones. The gift would boost Columbia’s efforts “to adjust financial aid packages so that students receive more of their aid in grants and less in loans,” said Austin Quigley, dean of Columbia College, in a statement at the time of the announcement.

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