Regional, minority-serving institutions receive $800+ million infusion from MacKenzie Scott

Philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott this week announced that in the last four months, she has made $4.2 billion in gifts to 384 organizations, including a number of colleges, universities, and scholarship funds dedicated to serving large numbers of Black, Latinx, Native American, and low-income students. While Scott did not disclose how much was distributed to individual institutions, some colleges and universities have shared those details, and The Washington Post estimates the total earmarked for higher education at more than $800 million.

The gifts, which support organizations in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, were unrestricted and paid up front. They build on $1.7 billion in philanthropy that Scott announced in July—which similarly included a number of donations to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—and are part of Scott’s broader goal of giving away at least $6 billion of her fortune this year.

Related: Big philanthropic investments a bright spot for HBCUs amid financial uncertainty worsened by pandemic >

In her announcement, posted on Medium, Scott said her giving focus on nonprofits and organizations that help meet basic needs and remedy “systemic inequities”—for instance, by educating historically underserved populations, providing financial and employment support to underresourced communities, and advocating for civil rights. Such services have only become more important amid the pandemic, which “has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling,” Scott wrote. 

More than 40 higher ed recipients

Scott—who was formerly married to Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon— spread this year’s philanthropic gifts across more than 40 “unsuspecting” colleges and universities, as well as three scholarship organizations dedicated to helping underrepresented students attain college degrees, the Post reports. 

The gifts include:

  • $112 million for Hispanic-serving institutions, including an eight-figure donation to Palo Alto College, a two-year public institution in San Antonio, Texas. Robert Garza, the college’s president, said Palo Alto will use the gift to provide more scholarships and boost enrollment. “It’s hard not to get a little emotional,” he said. “Major institutions tend to get these very large gifts and they go into their billion-dollar endowments that they already have. Community colleges don’t get these opportunities.”
  • An undisclosed amount for tribal colleges and universities, among them Navajo Technical University in New Mexico and Salish Kootenai College in Montana.
  • Undisclosed amounts for the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall fund, which provide scholarships and support for HBCU students, as well as for TheDream.us, which serves undocumented students.
  • $560 million for HBCUs, ranging from $4 million given to South Carolina-based Voorhees College to $50 million for Prairie View A&M University in Texas. Prairie View President Ruth J. Simmons said the university is using the funds to significantly enlarge its endowment and to create a grant program for juniors and seniors struggling to pay for college amid COVID-19-related economic hardships. Baltimore-based HBCU Morgan State University, meanwhile, said the $40 million it received would further its goal of becoming a top-tier research institution.

Unrestricted funds seen as a vote of confidence

The Post reports that “HBCU advocates were overjoyed not only at the amount of money but at the vote of confidence in their work,” adding that Scott’s choice to provide unrestricted funds and in such staggering amounts “has turned higher-education philanthropy upside down.” 

Those choices, according to UNCF’s Chief Executive Michael Lomax, say “‘I believe so much in what you are doing. I respect so much your work, that you use it as you see fit.’ ”

In her announcement, Scott says her advisors started with a list of 6,490 potential recipient organizations and used a rigorous “data-driven approach” to select the final 384. She hopes that elevating the profile of these “organizations with strong leadership teams and results…operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital” will “pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached.”

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