February 4, 2022
Twice in 2020 and once in 2021 the billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott surprised colleges unaccustomed to multimillion-dollar gifts—among them community colleges, tribal colleges and historically Black colleges and universities—with bigger gifts than they’ve ever gotten. Five million dollars for this college, $30 million for that one, up to $50 million in unrestricted dollars for university leaders to use as they saw fit.
“I think her funding shined a light on those organizations that don’t always stand out,” said Heidi M. Anderson, president of the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, an HBCU that received a $20 million gift from Scott. The Scott gift helped UMES more than double the value of its endowment, from about $30 million in October 2020 to $61 million today, and the university expects to draw up to $1.7 million in income from the endowment this spring to use for student scholarships and faculty development and to build up its sponsored research operation.
“Like many organizations, our organization had never received a gift this large,” Anderson said. “I felt it was really incumbent upon me and the university to use the resources prudently and use them in a way that could sustain the university.”
In announcing many of the gifts, Scott—who also gave to a number of other higher education and scholarship-granting nonprofit organizations—said she was accelerating her giving in response to the crisis wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she asked her advisers to identify organizations “with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.”
Colleges are using the gifts in a variety of ways. Fernando Delgado, president of Lehman College, a City University of New York institution in the Bronx, said the college transferred $26 million of the $30 million gift into the endowment—which before that had a value of about $6 million—to fund long-term priorities, including scholarships. A new MacKenzie Scott Opportunity Scholarship Fund, set to launch this year, is expected to yield an estimated $400,000 per year in new funding for scholarships. (Editor’s note: The amount of money transferred into Lehman College’s endowment has been changed based on updated information provided by the college.)
Delgado said the college is using the balance of the gift to fund a variety of short-term priorities, including commissioning a campus climate study, developing new mentoring and career training programs, and contracting with a consulting firm focused on fundraising and development to build the college’s fundraising infrastructure and multiply the impact of Scott’s gift.