Conrad Prebys gives $20 million to San Diego State

San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman and philanthropist Conrad Prebys announce a $20-million gift to the university to support student scholarships. The new student union will carry the philanthropist's name. (San Diego State University / February 5, 2014)

San Diego State University is getting a $20-million donation -- the largest single gift in the school's history -- to create several endowed student scholarships, officials announced Wednesday.

The gift comes from San Diego developer and philanthropist Conrad Prebys. In recognition, the university's new student union will be named the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

The donation will support at least 150 scholarships annually for student veterans, those pursuing biomedical research and creative and performing arts, former foster youth, entrepreneurs, student government leaders and honors students.

"The endowed scholarships Conrad is creating will transform our campus, providing support for programs throughout the university," San Diego State President Elliot Hirshman said in a statement. 

Prebys is well known in San Diego for his support of the San Diego Zoo, the Old Globe Theatre, the Salk Institute and other organizations.

He said he was moved to help students because of the many challenges they face.

"The idea of scholarships for students intrigued me because I know how difficult it is going to college right now," said Prebys, who graduated from Indiana University, in a statement. "Back when I was going to school, it was no big deal to work while you were going to school. Now, it can't be done. It's very difficult and expensive."

With Prebys' gift, the university has received more than $465 million toward a goal of $500 million in its first comprehensive fundraising campaign. More than $87 million has been raised for student scholarships.

Philanthropy is playing a key role in funding as state support has declined over the years, officials said.

"The future of San Diego State depends a lot on philanthropy," said Mary Ruth Carleton, San Diego State's vice president of university relations and development, in a statement. "This gift really helps the momentum of our campaign because we still have students who need scholarships, we need faculty support and we need to think about building new buildings with philanthropy."

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