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Western Michigan gets $550M donation – the largest single gift ever to a US public university

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DETROIT — Western Michigan University has received a $550 million donation, the largest single gift ever given to any public university in the nation, the school announced Tuesday.

The money is from anonymous alumni and will go to the university’s foundation over the next 10 years.

The gift will be split into three large pots: $300 million for Western Michigan’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine; $200 million for need-based financial aid, faculty hiring and other university initiatives, and $50 million for athletic programs.

The contribution will be known as the Empowering Futures Gift. The money is expected to start coming in this year and be available for the next fiscal year.

“We do a good job in promoting social mobility,” WMU President Edward Montgomery said. “Our donors believe in that vision. … I’m immensely pleased to have this gift. Its size allows it to be transformative.”

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This Sept. 12, 2014 photo shows the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, Mich.

This Sept. 12, 2014 photo shows the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, Mich.

As word got out Tuesday morning about the gift, most were stunned.

“My daughter came in and showed me the news,” Lisa Terhune, 48, of Kalamazoo, a Western Michigan alumnus, told the Detroit Free Press of the USA TODAY Network. Her daughter is currently a student there as well. “It’s amazing to see people invest in education. College costs so much. I really hope they use this to really knock down the price and let more people come. Western’s such a good school. I think this can really make them even better.”

Higher education has become more important than ever, but declines in governmental support has increased the burden on families trying to pay for it, Montgomery said in a press conference. This gift will help combat that.

“Across the country, far too many students enter college and leave with nothing but debt,” he said. “Some barriers are indeed financial, but often go far beyond that. It will have a deep and lasting impact on Western Michigan University … and the Kalamazoo community.”

This isn’t the first time donors in Kalamazoo have made a massive investment into education. In 2005, anonymous donors gave money to pay for college tuition for any student graduating from the Kalamazoo Public School District, a program that continues today.

The money will be dedicated to helping to give students more access to a college education.

“These funds will put higher education… within reach of thousands of students,” Montgomery said.

The previous record for a single gift to a public university was $500 million, set twice, once from the Helen Diller Foundation to the University of California at San Francisco in 2017 and from Penny and Phil Knight to the University of Oregon in 2016, according to a list of large donations from the 1960s on compiled by the trade publication “The Chronicle of Higher Education.”

Western Michigan is a high-level research university located in Kalamazoo, founded in 1903. It has 21,000 students.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Western Michigan University gets record $550 million donation

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