Spelman College receives historic $100M donation

Last week, Atlanta’s Spelman College, one of only two historically Black women’s colleges in the country, announced it received a $100 million donation, which the college says is the largest single donation to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). The donation was given by two Michigan philanthropists, Ronda E. Stryker—a Spelman trustee since 1997, and director at the medical device maker Stryker Corporation, which was founded by her grandfather—and her husband William D. Johnston, chairman of Greenleaf Trust, a wealth management company. The couple previously donated $30 million to Spelman in 2018, The Washington Post reports.

“It’s important to me that all women be provided an opportunity to explore their talents, challenge their self-doubts, and realize the power of achieving individual success,” Stryker said in a statement about her most recent donation, according to The New York Times. The donation comes as Spelman celebrates 100 years since its official naming in 1924. The college enrolls approximately 2,400 students and reported an endowment of $571 million in 2021, the Washington Post notes.

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Reducing financial barriers

Spelman says the gift includes $75 million to endow scholarships, with the remaining $25 million going toward other priorities, such as developing academic disciplines in public policy and democracy, and increasing student housing.

“We are invigorated and inspired by this incredible act of generosity,” Spelman President Helene Gayle said in a statement. “This gift is a critical step in our school’s mission to eliminate financial barriers to starting and finishing a Spelman education.”

HBCUs historically have had smaller endowments, underfunding that not only affects their financial stability but also their investments in infrastructure and financial aid. However, since the murder of George Floyd in 2020, they have seen increased donations from philanthropists, such as MacKenzie Scott and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The Spelman donation came just a week after the Lilly Endowment Inc. made an unrestricted donation of $100 million to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which would support the endowments of 37 HBCUs, including Spelman, that make up UNCF’s membership.

“As a student, I experienced the power of this historic institution and how it transforms the futures of talented young women,” Lovette Russell, chair of Spelman’s board of trustees, told students on campus as she discussed the impact the landmark donation would have on financial aid, CBS News reports. “I know that some of the brightest young women who dream about coming to Spelman are facing financial hardships and barriers toward higher education. What I am sharing with you today is a major step to ensure more young women can achieve their dreams.”

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