These Are the Largest Donations to U.S. Colleges and Universities

Donations from alums, philanthropists, and billionaires are piling up at institutions across the country. Here's how the colleges and universities are spending the money.
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Updated on March 27, 2024
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  • Multimillion-dollar donations have poured into higher education recently.
  • In 2018, Johns Hopkins University received what is believed to be the largest donation to a college: $1.8 billion.
  • Historically Black college and university (HBCU) Spelman College received the largest donation in HBCU history of $100 million for its 100th naming anniversary.
  • The Albert Einstein College of Medicine received a $1 billion donation to give all students free tuition.

Higher education is no stranger to donations from alums, philanthropists, and billionaires hoping to advance an institution they believe will improve the lives of students — and change the world.

In a trend of rising costs and lower enrollment, multimillion-dollar donations can give colleges the boost to not only survive but thrive. It's common to see donations from longtime supporters, members of their college's community, and anonymous donors who prefer to withhold their identities.

Colleges have also been using large donations to expand student financial aid, with some universities like Duke University using their gifts to give students free tuition.

Here are some of the biggest donations made to colleges and universities for research, business, scholarships, and even stem cells in space. Then, explore some of the biggest donations of all time to higher education.

Recently, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have received hundreds of millions for endowments, scholarships, and university needs. HBCUs are 1890 Land-Grant institutions entitled to the same state funding as their predominantly-white counterparts. However, they've been underfunded since they began, leaving private organizations and donors to boost endowments.

Recent Notable Donations to Colleges and Universities

Dartmouth College: $150 Million

Date: March 25, 2024

Donors: Glenn and Barbara Britt

Dartmouth alum and former Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, who died in 2014, and his wife, Barbara Britt, who died in August, left Dartmouth over $150 million for financial aid for students from middle-income families. Dartmouth's "zero parent contribution" threshold will jump from $65,000 annual family income to $125,000.

"Glenn Britt credited Dartmouth for transforming his life, and he was tremendously grateful for the financial aid award that made his Dartmouth experience possible," President Sian Leah Beilock said in the press release.

"By elevating the family contribution threshold to $125,000, we will not only be saying to them that a Dartmouth education is within reach; we will also be adding to the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints of our students, an educational plus for everyone on campus."

LaGuardia Community College: $116 Million

Date: March 20, 2024

Donor: The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation

The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation, led by New York Mets owner Alex Cohen, donated the largest-ever gift to the City University of New York system to create a workforce training center focused on:

  • Healthcare
  • Construction
  • Technology
  • Culinary and hospitality
  • Green jobs
  • Film and television

"Alex Cohen is passionate about making quality, affordable workforce training available to low-income New Yorkers who want to learn new skills, get good jobs, and provide for their families," Kenneth Adams, LAGCC president, said in the release.

"We are truly honored that she turned to LaGuardia to bring her vision to life through the creation of the Cohen Career Collective."

DePauw University: $100 Million

Date: February 7, 2024

Donor: Anonymous

An anonymous donor gave $150 million to DePauw University with matched gifts of $50 million from other donors. The historic gift will support investments in academic programs, student organizations, inclusion efforts, and more.

"Thanks to support at this scale, we can focus on ensuring that our core academic programs and offerings are extraordinary in every way," President Lori S. White said in a press release. "We know that our aspirations for DePauw – to be a new model for a liberal arts college for the 21st century – will require further philanthropic support, and this gift – and those it will inspire – are essential to advancing the accomplishments of our incredible community of students, faculty, staff and alumni in the future."

Spelman College: $100 Million

Date: January 18, 2024

Donors: Ronda Stryker and William Johnston

Businesswoman, philanthropist, and trustee Ronda Stryker and her husband and Chairman of Greenleaf Trust William Johnston gave the largest donation in history to an HBCU. The college will use $75 million for endowed scholarships and $25 million for an academic focus on public policy and democracy, student housing, and strategic college needs.

"We are invigorated and inspired by this incredible act of generosity," said Spelman President Helene Gayle. "This gift is a critical step in our school's mission to eliminate financial barriers to starting and finishing a Spelman education. We can't thank Ronda Stryker enough for her selflessness and support as both a trustee and friend. There's no doubt that Spelman College is better because of her."

United Negro College Fund: $100 Million

Date: January 11, 2024

Donor: Lilly Endowment Inc.

Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.'s unrestricted gift is the largest in the fund's history and will go towards all member 37 HBCUs' endowments. Each member institution will immediately receive $2.7 million from the gift, doubling some institutions' endowments.

"For nearly 80 years, Lilly Endowment has supported UNCF's efforts to strengthen its member institutions and thereby enhance the educational attainment of their students," N. Clay Robbins, Lilly Endowment's chairman and CEO, said in the UNCF press release.

"The UNCF programs we have helped fund in the past have been successful, and we are confident that the efforts to be supported by this bold campaign will have a great impact on UNCF's member institutions and their students' lives."

Purdue University: $100 Million

Date: January 9, 2024

Donor: Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. gave Purdue University the largest gift in the university's history. Half will go to Purdue's Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business, had a banner year in 2023, with Purdue tapping James Bullard, the former head of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and a leading economist, to become the re-envisioned school's first dean.

The other half will go to Purdue Computes, an initiative to boost research and employment in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductors, and other high-demand technology industries.

"This support is essential to realizing the power of AI and computing in transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and life and health sciences and creating the workforce for the future that benefits Purdue students, our state and our nation," Purdue Executive Vice President for Research Karen Plaut said in the release.

Duke University: $100 Million

Date: November 30, 2023

Donor: The Duke Endowment

The Duke Endowment gave Duke University the largest single donation in its history to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Part of the donation will go to Duke's tuition-free initiative for students in the Carolinas. The donation will also impact graduate and professional students from historically Black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

The Duke Endowment is a separate organization from the university established by the same creator, James B. Duke, in 1924.

"Our two institutions have a shared origin story, and I am absolutely delighted that The Duke Endowment has chosen to launch our centennial with this historic award that will shape the Duke student experience in our second century," Duke University President Vincent E. Price said in the announcement.

"This award underscores the value of transformative teaching and learning experiences that prepare students to successfully engage with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century."

Kalamazoo College: $30 Million

Date: October 9, 2023

Donor: Anonymous

Kalamazoo College, Michigan's oldest private college, received the largest gift in its history from an anonymous donor which will help build a new residence hall and expand student access support programs.

"To ensure equitable access to K for students who are among the first in their families to attend college, our responsibility extends beyond admittance—we must provide the resources that will see them through to graduation," Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students J. Malcolm Smith said. "The resources—such as access to personal and professional networks, leadership development opportunities, and financial support to make the most of their college experience—that may be readily available to many college-bound students often don’t exist for first-gen students."

Oklahoma State University: $120 Million

Date: June 20, 2023

Donor: T. Boone Pickens Foundation

The foundation, named after the late OSU alum and philanthropist, donated $120 million spread across scholarships and the OSU Human Performance Innovation Complex and the Human Performance and Nutrition Research Institute (HPNRI) to support student and student-athlete wellness.

According to OSU, Pickens' total gifts to the university are approaching $650 million.

"Physical, mental and spiritual health played a big part in Boone's life," said Jay Rosser, foundation director. "He would be pleased OSU is positioning itself through HPNRI to discover and apply evidence-informed solutions to improve lives."

Stony Brook University: $500 Million

Date: June 1, 2023

Donor: The Simons Foundation

The Simons Foundation, founded by Marilyn and Jim Simons, gave the unrestricted gift for the university to use wherever it sees fit. The university said it plans to use the funding for scholarships, endowed professorships, research, and clinical care.

New York City also recently selected the university to be the anchor institution for the New York Climate Exchange, a climate research hub and campus on the city's Governors Island.

"As a Stony Brook graduate, I know firsthand the role that a quality education plays in the trajectory of one's life," said Marilyn Simons. "I am proud of the education I received there. Jim and I want to ensure that Stony Brook continues to serve its students with the highest level of educational excellence and with world-class resources.

The foundation's gift will also help give those from underserved communities the opportunity to reach their full potential. We look forward to seeing this institution continue to thrive."

University of Chicago's Business School: $100 Million

Date: April 28, 2023

Donor: Ross Stevens

Ross Stevens celebrated the business school Ph.D. program's 100th anniversary in April by donating $100 million. The gift will increase stipends, research support, and create "Stevens Fellowships."

It will also implement wellness and professional development programs and support systems for Ph.D. students and alums.

"I believe that, over time, the quality of a business school's PhDs determines the quality of its faculty, which, in turn, determines the quality of the school itself," Stevens said.

Harvard University: $300 Million

Date: April 11, 2023

Donor: Kenneth Griffin

Harvard in April announced the hedge fund billionaire alum's $300 million donation to its Faculty of Arts and Sciences, home to the university’s undergraduate program as well as all of its Ph.D. programs plus athletics, museums and libraries. The school will be renamed the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

In total, Griffin has donated over $500 million to the university.

"Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences is committed to advancing ideas that will shape humanity's future, while providing important insight into our past," Griffin said. "I am excited to support the impactful work of this great institution."

Columbia University: $175 Million

Date: March 6, 2023

Donors: Roy and Diana Vagelos

Announced in March, the donation will create the Vagelos Institute for Biomedical Research Education. The university said that the institute will allow Ph.D. students to pursue creative, disruptive ideas by creating an academic model that encourages and accelerates risk-taking. The couple is splitting their gift into a $125 million endowment for Ph.D. student funding and a $50 million gift to support aspiring physician-scientists in biology and clinical medicine.

"Diana and I each vividly recall the difference that financial support made in creating a sense of freedom and instilling the confidence to pursue our passions early in our lives," Roy Vagelos said. "We want to give others this same freedom by removing the obstacles facing researchers and scientists in training."

Harvard Medical School: $75 Million

Date: February 13, 2023

Donor: Ernesto Bertarelli

Harvard announced in January that the donation from the Swiss biotech executive, entrepreneur, and philanthropist will support therapeutic science and create the Bertarelli Building. The building will be a skylit atrium for convening and collaborating.

"It has been my honor to have been a partner of the School for over two decades," Bertarelli said in a press release, "and I am delighted to continue to support the HMS community in its important work by helping to modernize these landmark facilities to keep pace with therapeutics innovation."

Purdue University's Business School: $50 Million

Date: February 13, 2023

Donor: The Dean and Barbara White Foundation

Purdue in February announced that the donation will launch the Bruce White Undergraduate Institute within the business school, named after the former alum, trustee member, and longtime benefactor who died on Jan. 19. The gift will also help grow enrollment and create a revised curriculum at the intersection of business and technology.

"The naming after Bruce White, one of the most prominent Boilermakers our university has ever known, is particularly meaningful to us," President Mung Chiang said in a press release. "This gift ensures Purdue will educate exceptional undergraduate business students who will create and grow competitive businesses in a technology-driven, free-market economy."

Top 12 Biggest Donations to Colleges and Universities

Stony Brook University: $500 Million

Date: June 1, 2023

Donor:The Simons Foundation

Oregon Health and Science University: $500 Million

Date: June 24, 2015

Donors: Phil and Penny Knight

The Nike co-founder and his wife pledged $500 million as part of a $1 billion fundraising challenge to support early detection of lethal cancers. The university used the total $1 billion to build a new research facility and cancer care clinics for expanded clinical trials.

"Penny and I have total confidence in Brian Druker and the entire OHSU Knight Cancer Institute team to put a stop to a disease that touches each of our lives," said Phil Knight.

"We are more convinced than ever that cancer will meet its match at OHSU, and we are proud to play a role in this history in the making."

University of Oregon, Twice: $500 Million

Date: July 6, 2021 and Oct. 18, 2016

Donors: Phil and Penny Knight

The Nike co-founder and his wife first donated $500 million to the university in 2016, which created the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The building, completed in 2020, was able to expand after the second gift by creating more faculty positions and a second building.

"There is no greater vote of confidence in our success than the Knights' decision to double their investment in the Knight Campus. This gift will help provide opportunities for students, faculty, the university, and our state to reach new levels of discovery, innovation, and collaboration," the university wrote in a 2021 statement.

"Please join us in thanking the Knights and the scores of individuals who helped make this University of Oregon's moonshot of a dream into a stunning reality."

Harvard University: $500 Million

Date: December 7, 2021

Donors: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

The donation, spread over 15 years, went to create an institute for artificial intelligence and neuroscience named after Zuckerberg's mother. The donation created 10 new faculty positions, new computing infrastructure, and more student resources at all levels.

"Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg have demonstrated a remarkable commitment to promoting discovery, innovation, and service at Harvard and other academic institutions around the United States," said President Lawrence S. Bacow.

"From supporting the study of COVID-19 treatments and advancing literacy research, to boosting public service opportunities for undergraduates, they have shown a genuine commitment through their work at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and beyond to curing disease, improving lives, and encouraging others to serve."

Western Michigan University: $550 Million

Date: June 8, 2021

Donors: Anonymous

The anonymous alums' donation gave $200 million to the university, $300 million for the medical school, and $50 million for the athletics department. According to the university, the donors' gift reflected their belief in diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education.

"Like Western, our donors are committed to a future that truly provides opportunity for everyone to advance," said President Edward Montgomery.

"In order to empower our future, we must break down the barriers created by historic inequities. This gift is an important step in leveling the playing field and putting quality education in reach for students from historically underrepresented populations."

California Institute of Technology: $600 Million

Date: October 29, 2001

Donors: Gordon and Betty Moore

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and his wife, Betty, donated half of the $600 million, and their foundation donated the other half. The funds were set apart for education and science programs at Caltech. The Moores' donation distributed $300 million across five years, while the foundation's was spread across a decade.

"Caltech has a unique ability to do multidisciplinary work — partly because of its size and partly because of its history. It is described as being a national treasure and it certainly is," said Gordon Moore. "The education I received there has served me well. We are hoping this gift will position the institute well as it moves forward."

Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital: $700 Million

Date: November 15, 2017

Donors: Florence and Herbert Irving

Florence Irving and her late husband donated to advance cancer research and clinical care. They donated more than $900 million total to both institutions over three decades. In 2016, the two institutions renamed the shared medical campus, "Columbia University Irving Medical Center" and "NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center."

"Herbert and I have always been proud to help the terrific doctors at Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian," said Florence Irving.

"It meant everything to him to be able to support world-class research and caregiving that makes a difference in people's lives. I am honored, as he always was, to be associated with these great institutions and the special people who make them what they are."

California Institute of Technology: $750 Million

Date: September 26, 2019

Donors: Stewart and Lynda Resnick

The donation from the philanthropist couple went to support sustainability research through interdisciplinary work in physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering. The institute also pledged to build a 75,000-square-foot building in their name to serve as a hub for sustainability research and laboratories.

"In order to comprehensively manage the climate crisis, we need breakthrough innovations, the kind that will only be possible through significant investment in university research," said Stewart Resnick. "Science and bold creativity must unite to address the most pressing challenges facing energy, water, and sustainability."

McPherson College: $1 Billion

Date: July 21, 2023

Donor: Anonymous

The small Kansas liberal arts college with 40 programs of study known for its automotive restoration technology degree received a commitment in November from an anonymous donor, which will fund engineering programs, health sciences programs, and student debt relief. The donor matched $2 for every dollar the college raised, up to $500 million.

The donor surprised the college with another $500 million commitment after it completed the challenge at the end of June. The college will receive the donation over time or in full upon the donor's death.

According to McPherson, its over-$1.5 billion endowment is the largest in history for a small liberal arts college.

"Now, the work begins to build a bridge to our future endowment," said President Michael Schneider. "We need to carefully plan how the income from the endowment is deployed to reimagine and construct the campus of the future, build a much-needed rural health pipeline in Kansas, create a center for the future of automotive engineering and work to make college more affordable for all our students. There has never been a better day to be a part of the McPherson College community!"

Albert Einstein College of Medicine: $1 Billion

Date: February, 26, 2024

Donor: Ruth L. Gottesman

Ruth L. Gottesman, chair of the board of trustees at the college and longtime donor donated what seems to be the largest gift ever to a medical school to give all students free tuition starting in August, 2024. All current fourth-year students will receive tuition reimbursement for the spring 2024 semester.

The college and Gottesman hopes removing tuition will increase the diversity of students who would otherwise not be able to afford medical school.

"Each year, well over 100 students enter Albert Einstein College of Medicine in their quest for degrees in medicine and science," Gottesman said. "They leave as superbly trained scientists and compassionate and knowledgeable physicians, with the expertise to find new ways to prevent diseases and provide the finest health care to communities here in the Bronx and all over the world."

Stanford University: $1.1 Billion

Date: May 4, 2022

Donors: John and Ann Doerr

This donation announced in May 2022 created Stanford's first new school in 70 years, the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. The school focuses on studies including climate change, sustainable cities, food and water security, and human health and the environment.

"This new school will accelerate scholarship and solutions to pressing challenges facing the earth, climate, and society," John Doerr tweeted. "It is the result of visionary thinking about the role of the university and our shared ambition to make a measurable impact on the climate crisis."

Johns Hopkins University: $1.8 Billion

Date: November 18, 2018

Donors: Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins alum, donated to permanently increase undergraduate financial aid at the university.

"Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity," Bloomberg said. "It perpetuates intergenerational poverty. And it strikes at the heart of the American dream: the idea that every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit."