Scott’s latest gifts buoy colleges educating chronically underserved communities

Author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott this month announced a third round of gifts totaling $2.7 billion to “high-impact organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.” The 286 recipients include at least 31 colleges and universities, as well as several other higher-education nonprofit organizations.

Combined with Scott’s July and December 2020 gifts to higher education, the billionaire has now donated more than $1.5 billion to around six dozen colleges, according to a Higher Ed Dive analysis. Scott’s higher education giving across the past year has prioritized minority-serving institutions, with Hispanic-serving institutions, historically Black institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities receiving $702 million, $560 million, and $26 million, respectively.

Introducing the latest round of gifts, Scott wrote that her team “looked for 2- and 4-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved.” Higher Ed Dive estimates that around 87 percent of Scott’s college and university giving has been directed to schools where more than four in 10 students receive Pell grants (nationally, around 34 percent of undergraduates were Pell grant recipients in 2018-19).

Unrestricted gifts for maximum flexibility

As before, Scott has encouraged recipients to spend the gifts “however they choose,” reiterating her belief “that teams with experience on the front lines of challenges will know best how to put the money to good use.” She adds that “many reported that this trust significantly increased the impact of the gift.”

The dozens of colleges, universities, and organizations receiving Scott’s latest gifts shared a number of ways the additional resources will help them increase access for underrepresented students.

California State University’s Channel Islands, Pomona, Northdridge, and Fullerton campuses said they will use some of their combined $135 million to diversify their faculty, support students holistically, and eliminate equity pay gaps. “With a mix of focused spending and investment, we can, and will, use these dollars to transform our campus for generations to come,” said Erika Beck, president of CSU-Northridge.

At the University of Illinois Chicago, leaders intend to use Scott’s $40 million to launch a Student Success Fund aimed at ensuring low-income and first-generation students graduate on time and secure internships.

With its $40 million from Scott, the University of Texas at San Antonio will bolster existing student success initiatives, including a program that provides full tuition and fees to high-achieving, low-income students and other initiatives supporting transfer students, students with experience in foster care, first-generation students, and undocumented students.

Meanwhile, California-based Long Beach City College, a two-year institution serving more than 24,000 students, will use its $30 million to advance efforts to address racial equity gaps and support students from vulnerable populations.

Catalyzing future philanthropy

Recipients also expect Scott’s donations to help generate momentum for future fundraising pursuits. Scott reinforced this expectation, writing that she made these philanthropic investments “both to enable their work, and as a signal of trust and encouragement, to them and to others.”

“One large gift from a donor with the presence and reach of MacKenzie Scott will create a ripple effect of confidence that will bring in other private gifts,” Karen Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream—which received $20 million from Scott—told Inside Higher Ed. “That multiplier effect of that one big significant gift can mean everything for a community college.”

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