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Mystery Donor Gives $76 Million to Colleges for Scholarships

No one knows for sure why the specific schools were chosen, but there are some similarities.

Lauren Bayne Anderson

May 12, 2009

Mystery Donor Gives $76 Million to Colleges for Scholarships
College students have it tough these days — scholarship money is scarce and even loans are harder to come by. Endowments are shrinking and the need for financial aid is exploding. Well, someone took notice — someone with $76 million dollars to spare. In a mystery worthy of the finest TV detectives, an anonymous donor has given $76 million to 15 schools with two stipulations: the money be used for scholarships and the school never asks who donated the cash.

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Talk about paying it forward. No one knows for sure why the specific schools were chosen, but there are some similarities:
  • All 15 colleges have female presidents.
  • All but one are public institutions.
  • Most are on the East Coast or in the Midwest.
  • Much of the money is designated for scholarships for low-income or disadvantaged students.

Some experts are speculating that the philanthropist is a woman, since all of the colleges chosen had female presidents. Others suggest an older donor from the “World War II generation”, who tends to shy away from the public spotlight. Or, experts say, it could be a more recent figure that simply doesn’t want to be bombarded with additional requests for donations. Oprah Winfrey, the Leona Helmsley estate, Martha Stewart and former eBay president Meg Whitman, have been suggested as possible donors, although representatives for most of these women have already denied being the mystery philanthropist. One thing's for sure: while all donors may not be as generous, or able, as the mystery donor, there are many philanthropists that prefer to do their giving in private. This is one thing that's up in a down economy, reported ABC. From June 2008 to April 2009, there were 80 anonymous gifts tracked by the Chronicle of Philanthropy of $1 million or more. That's nearly 19 percent of the 422 total during that period-- up from an average that ranged from 3 to 5 percent over the last decade, ABC reported. So, is your school on the list of lucky colleges to receive scholarship funds from the mystery donor? And what other clues can we glean from looking closer at these schools?

Michigan State University

Anonymous Donor Gave: $10 million
College President: Lou Anna Simon
About the School: Michigan State University (MSU) is a public research university in East Lansing, Michigan USA. Founded in 1855, it was the pioneer land-grant institution and served as a model for future land-grant colleges in the United States. Michigan State is a Big 10 University and is considered Ivy League. The university has over 200 academic programs. Today its study-abroad program is the largest of any single-campus university in the country, offering more than 200 programs in more than 60 countries on all continents including Antarctica. As of 2007, the university’s Board of Trustees was made up of three Republicans and five Democrats.

Purdue University

Anonymous Donor Gave: $8 million
College President: France A. Córdova
About the School: Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S., is the flagship university of the six campuses within the Purdue University System. Like Michigan, Purdue University was founded as a land-grant university. Purdue currently ranks 9th among America's Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs. It was the first university globally to have ever offered an aeronautics program and has been influential in America's history of aviation. The Purdue student body is composed primarily of students from Indiana. As of 2007, the racial diversity of the undergraduate student body was 86.9% white, 5.51% Asian, 3.53% African American, and 2.75% Hispanic. Of these students, 41.2% are female.

University of Iowa

Annonymous Donor Gave: $7 million
College President: Sally Mason
About the School: The University of Iowa is a public research university located in Iowa City, Iowa, United States. The university is organized into eleven colleges granting undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. The university is a member of the American Association of Universities, the Big Ten Conference, and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. Its Writer's Workshop is the top-ranked creative writing program in the country. Iowa is one of 60 elected members to the Association of American Universities. Additionally, Iowa is also a Public Ivy.

The University of Alaska-Anchorage

Annonymous Donor Gave: $7 million
College Chancellor: Fran Ulmer
About the School: University of Alaska Anchorage, a United States educational faculty, is the largest member of the University of Alaska System, with more than 17,000 students, 14,000 of whom attend classes at the main Anchorage campus. The aviation department at UAA has been growing at a high rate over the last several years. During the fall semester of 2006, the program grew by approximately 300%.

Binghamton University

Anonymous Donor Gave: $6 million
College President: Lois B. DeFleur
About the School: Binghamton University or State University of New York at Binghamton (SUNY Binghamton) is one of the four university centers in New York State’s system of post-secondary public education (SUNY). Binghamton has grown from a small liberal arts college to a large doctoral-granting institution, presently consists of six colleges and schools and is now home to more than 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students. According to Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine, Binghamton was ranked the #1 best value for 2009. In Spring 2008, Forbes Magazine ranked Binghamton 16th among all public schools and 57th among all schools public and private.

University of Southern Mississippi

Anonymous Donor Gave: $6 million
College President: Martha Dunagin Saunders
About the School: The University of Southern Mississippi (USM, but officially referred to as Southern Miss) is a comprehensive public university located primarily in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, offering bachelor's, master's, specialist's, and doctoral degrees. The university, through its Center for International Education, operates a number of international programs, and is consistently ranked as one of the top universities in the nation for the number of students studying abroad each year. The university is home to a major polymer science research center, a nationally recognized writer's center and one of the strongest music programs in the southeastern United States.

The University of Maryland's University College

Anonymous Donor Gave: $6 million
College President: Susan C. Aldridge
About the School: The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) serves over 90,000 students worldwide, it is the second-largest 4-year public university in Maryland and one of the largest distance learning universities. The University offers 120 academic programs in-class and online, including bachelors, masters, and doctoral as well as certificate degrees. UMUC is part of the University System of Maryland, which includes eleven public universities.

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Anonymous Donor Gave: $5.5 million
College Chancellor: Pamela Shockley-Zalabak
About the School: The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
(UCCS) has about 6,150 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students, with 18% ethnic minority students and 58% female students. In 2006, the U.S. News & World Report college and university rankings put the UCCS College of Engineering and Applied Science as ranking the fourth-best among public universities and the 16th best overall among bachelor and master's degree engineering schools. U.S. News ranked UCCS as the 32nd in master's universities in the West for the 2009 rankings. For public universities in the Master's Universities-West category it was ranked 6th. It has been ranked in the top ten on that list each year since 2002.

Hunter College

Anonymous Donor Gave: $5 million
College President: Jennifer Raab
About the School: Hunter College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY), located on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Originally known as the Normal College, Hunter was founded in 1870 by Irish immigrant and social reformer Thomas Hunter as a teacher-training school for young women. The 2008 edition of "America's Best Colleges", published by U.S. News & World Report, places the college 12th among public universities in the north in the "Best Universities-Master's" category. According to the Princeton Review and U.S.A. Today, Hunter is the nation's number 8 "Best Value" in public colleges.

Montclair State University

Anonymous Donor Gave: $5 million
College President: Susan Cole
About the School: Montclair State University is a public university located in Upper Montclair, Little Falls, and Clifton, New Jersey. As of October 2008, there were 17,475 total enrolled students: 13,725 undergraduate students and 3,750 graduate students. Montclair State University is New Jersey's second largest school and is the state's quickest growing school. More than 250 majors, minors and concentrations are offered.

Norfolk State University

Anonymous Donor Gave: $3.5 million
College President: Carolyn Meyers
About the School: Norfolk State University (NSU) is a four-year, state-supported, coed, liberal arts, historically black university located in Norfolk, Virginia. The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has accredited Norfolk State to award associate, baccalaureate, master and doctoral degrees. Currently, Norfolk State offers two doctorate and 15 master's degrees, including Master's degree programs in Optical Engineering, Computer Science, and Criminal Justice. The school also offers 36 undergraduate degrees, with a new degree being offered in Optical Engineering.

Pennsylvania State University-Harrisburg

Anonymous Donor Gave: $3 million
College President: Madlyn L. Hanes
About the School: Penn State Harrisburg enrolls nearly 4,000 students and offers two associate, 27 baccalaureate, 20 master's, and two doctoral degrees as well as certificate and certification programs. Both traditional academic and continuing education courses are offered throughout the year. The Eastgate Center is home to the e-Commerce Center, which delivers business and technology related training to thousands of area residents each year.

The University of North Carolina-Greensboro

Anonymous Donor Gave: $1.5 million
College President: Linda P. Brady
About the School: The University of North Carolina at Greensboro is a public university in Greensboro, North Carolina and is a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina system. Also known as UNCG, the university offers more than 100 undergraduate, 59 master's and 22 doctoral programs. The Princeton Review ranked UNCG #2 in its list of best bargains in public universities in the nation. For the eighth year in a row, The Princeton Review ranked UNCG among the nation's top colleges in the 2007 edition of "The Best 357 Colleges" guide.

University of North Carolina at Asheville

Anonymous Donor Gave: $1.5 million
College Chancellor: Anne Ponder
About the School: The University of North Carolina at Asheville is a co-educational, four year, public liberal arts university. Innovative academic programs, low cost and an interdisciplinary study approach has drawn praise from national college guidebooks. The Princeton Review of "America's Best Value Colleges" ranked UNCA third on their list of Top 10 Best Value Public Colleges of 2008. The Fiske Guide to Colleges ranked UNCA among top 20 Best Buys in public liberal arts education.

Kalamazoo College

Anonymous Donor Gave: $1 million
College President: Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran
About the School: Kalamazoo College is a private liberal arts college located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States. Founded in 1833, the institution was American Baptist in origin, but today maintains no religious affiliation. Kalamazoo College is one of the United States' 100 oldest academic institutions. Kalamazoo College also has the distinction of producing the largest number of Peace Corps volunteers per capita, as well as ranking in the top 1 percent for number of graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D.

Information compiled from and The New York Times.

All college descriptions from Wikipedia.

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