Dive Brief:

  • Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced this week she donated tens of millions of dollars to historically Black colleges and universities across the U.S. 

  • At least four of the donations are the largest single gifts in the respective schools’ histories. 

  • The gifts reflect a pattern of increased giving to HBCUs amid a season that has been defined by unrest and nationwide protests over systemic racism.

Dive Insight:

Scott, whose former husband is Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, pledged last year to give away the majority of her wealth. She is among the 10 richest women in the world, according to Forbes.

She announced Tuesday that she donated $1.7 billion to groups with a focus on racial, LGBTQ and gender equity, as well as other causes. 

Among the recipients are six HBCUs, including Howard University. The others are Hampton and Tuskegee universities, Morehouse and Spelman colleges and Xavier University of Louisiana.

The gifts follow a $25 million donation earlier this month to be spread among 11 HBCUs from Dominion Energy, which also committed $10 million in scholarship funding.

Not all of the colleges that received Scott’s donations have publicly disclosed the gift amounts.

However, Howard said Tuesday that Scott gave $40 million, which was the largest gift from a single donor in the university’s history. It will help fund improvements to campus infrastructure, as well as programs focused on faculty development and entrepreneurship, the university said in a statement

The donation will also support Howard’s Graduation & Retention Access to Continued Excellence (GRACE) initiative, which provides matching grants to students who already receive the maximum Pell award. The program also helps students whose expected family contribution is $0.

Howard President Wayne Frederick said in the statement he hoped Scott’s gift would inspire other donors “to lift the financial burden off of deserving students and help make ends meet so they can focus on graduating on time.”

Meanwhile, Tuskegee said Scott gave it $20 million, which will go toward increasing student access to college and advancing research. The funds, which are unrestricted, also are the largest single gift in the university’s history.

Xavier University, responding to an emailed question regarding Scott’s donation, referred Education Dive to a news release describing a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor. The statement says the gift, the university’s largest private donation from an individual, will help expand scholarships and endow new faculty positions.

Hampton said it might use the $30 million from Scott, also the largest single gift in its history, to fund new scholarships and its Proton Therapy Institute.

In a statement, Morehouse said that Scott made an “eight-figure gift” that will help improve technology infrastructure and attract new donors. Spelman also did not share how much it received from Scott.

Nationwide demonstrations over racial injustices have drawn attention to the historic inequities faced by Black people, as well as HBCUs. Their endowments are often far less robust than those of predominantly white institutions (PWIs), and the students they cater to are often disadvantaged.

A UNCF representative told Education Dive earlier this week he hopes the increased attention on HBCUs will lead to larger gifts and help close the gap between them and PWIs.

In June, UNCF, which funds scholarships for students at private HBCUs, got $40 million from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Patty Quillin, his wife. The pair also gave $40 million each to Spelman and Morehouse. 

UNCF and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which focuses on public HBCUs, also received donations from Scott, as did College Track, which provides scholarships for disadvantaged students.

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