Stony Brook University receives $500M—largest unrestricted endowment gift to a college in U.S. history

Stony Brook University, one of the State University of New York system’s flagship institutions, has received a $500 million unrestricted gift from the Simons Foundation, one of the largest such donations to a college in U.S. history, The New York Times reports. The Times notes that “gifts of that size are rare for universities, and especially so for public institutions like Stony Brook,” which currently has a $370 million endowment.

The Simons Foundation’s Stony Brook donation comes amid broader growth in unrestricted gifts to chronically underfunded institutions, such as gifts made by author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Because unrestricted gifts are not earmarked for specific purposes, the funds can be used where they’re most needed to support an institution’s overall mission.

Many times, that means an expansion of financial support for students. At Stony Brook, the Simons Foundation gift will allow the university to bolster student scholarships, endowed professorships, research, and clinical care. The gift will be distributed over seven years and is expected to grow to $1 billion due to additional million-dollar donations the gift will inspire and New York’s first-ever 1:2 endowment matching program, Stony Brook says, which the Times reports will provide an additional $200 million in state funds.

“The foundation’s gift will also help give those from underserved communities the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Simons Foundation founders Marilyn Simons, an alumna of Stony Brook’s bachelor’s and doctoral programs, and her husband Jim Simons, a former Stony Brook math professor, say in the university’s announcement. Combined with their most recent gift, the Simons’ giving to Stony Brook has totaled approximately $1.2 billion.

“I was really grateful when the opportunity opened up for me to attend Stony Brook for college,” Mrs. Simons, who was raised in a working class household, tells the Times. “I commuted to the school with my brother and my cousin. They went off to lay brick and I went to my calculus class.”

Expanding access

Stony Brook, known for enrolling students from low-income and working-class households and serving as an engine of social mobility, is one of 137 higher education institutions committed to the goals of American Talent Iniative’s (ATI’s) Accelerating Opportunity campaign. Through the campaign, ATI (of which Georgetown University is a founding member) aims to increase the total number of students from low-income households attending top-performing colleges from approximately 550,000 to 600,000 by 2025 and beyond. 

Although more than 50% of Stony Brook students have their tuition fully covered by financial aid and state grants, students still struggle to afford remaining college costs, such as room and board, transportation, and textbooks, Stony Brook president Maurie McInnis notes. “Investing in our students is one of the ways that we might expend this money in the future,” McInnis tells the Times.

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