The historic gift, announced Sunday, will be spent exclusively for low- and middle-income scholarships, allowing the university to permanently offer need-blind admissions and eliminating the need for student loans in financial aid packages.
University President Ronald J. Daniels likened Bloomberg’s gift to the $7 million donation Johns Hopkins gave in 1873 to found the school, and compared it to railroad magnate and former California Gov. Leland Stanford’s founding of Stanford and John D. Rockefeller’s financial support of the University of Chicago.
“It’s at another level — truly transformative,” Daniels said. “It’s a moment in which Hopkins becomes better equipped to bring a student population to Baltimore that truly reflects the fabric of this country.”
Bloomberg, a Hopkins alumnus and financial and media magnate who is considering a run for president in 2020, has already donated $6.4 billion to philanthropic causes over his lifetime. The gift more than doubles the $1.5 billion he has already given to Hopkins, whose School of Public Health bears his name.
“America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook,” Bloomberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed published Sunday afternoon. “Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity. 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.”
The gift, he wrote, “will allow the school to offer more generous scholarships. It will ease the burden of student debt for many graduates. And it will help open up the American dream to more young people."
In addition to allowing the university to admit the highest-achieving students, regardless of their ability to pay, the gift will replace student loans in financial aid packages with scholarships that are not required to be repaid, beginning in fall 2019, the university said.
The donation will put Hopkins on a course toward a more socioeconomically diverse student body, with low-income students who qualify for federal Pell Grants making up at least one-fifth of the student body in the next five years, the university said. Roughly 15 percent are currently Pell Grant-eligible, but with the maximum grant only $6,095, many must turn to student loans to make up the difference.
Undergraduate tuition alone at Hopkins now ranges from $48,645 to $53,740, depending on the program, and other costs, such as room and board, push the price up to about $70,000. Forty-four percent of Hopkins students graduate with student loan debt, averaging more than $24,000.
The donation will reduce the amount that aid-dependent families must pay toward their children’s education and allow Hopkins to “dramatically increase” recruitment and programs for first-generation and lower-income students, “including support for research experiences, internships, and study abroad,” the university said.
An intensive outreach and recruitment program will aim to address the national issue of “under-matching,” in which talented high school students from low- or middle-income backgrounds are not matched with competitive college options. Bloomberg Philanthropies is working through two programs, CollegePoint and the American Talent Initiative, to encourage such students to apply to, enroll in and graduate from top institutions.
Two $1 billion donations were previously tied for the biggest academic gifts since 1967: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Millennium Scholars program in 1999, and the Anil Agarwal Foundation’s 2006 establishment of Vedanta University in India, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Hopkins has been in talks with Bloomberg for the past year and a half about the donation, which Daniels said addresses one of the university’s — and the philanthropist’s — highest priorities: accessibility of high-quality education beyond the overly rich, white communities that have traditionally enjoyed it.
“Mike, through his leadership in the last few years, has been raising concerns about these issues nationally and challenging universities to get more engaged in active recruitment of students of lower economic backgrounds,” Daniels said. “Not surprisingly, when Mike called me last Sunday to share the news, we were truly elated and awestruck.”
Baltimore, too, stands to gain from the gift, Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement.
“Baltimore benefits from a more successful, open and diverse Johns Hopkins University,” Pugh said. “We are so grateful to Mr. Bloomberg for recognizing that equal access to a quality education levels the playing field towards a more equal and just society.”
Jeffrey Aronson, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, said Hopkins is “profoundly grateful” for Bloomberg’s “unbounded vision and generosity.”
“Like his alma mater, Mike strives to make the world a better place, always leading by example,” Aronson said in a statement. “His unparalleled gift opens up a world of equal opportunity for generations of Hopkins students to come.”
The gift will open doors of opportunity to students from all backgrounds, said John B. King Jr., who served as U.S. secretary of education under President Barack Obama.
“It also sends a message,” King said, “that all of us can and must do more to ensure that higher education fulfills its responsibility to be an engine of economic mobility for students from every background.”
The magnitude of the gift illustrates Bloomberg’s generosity and emphasis on educational equity, but coming nearly two years before the presidential election, it doesn’t appear politically motivated, said retired Hopkins political scientist Matthew Crenson.
“I am surprised, but I don’t think it has to do with any presidential aspirations,” he said. “If he wanted to have the maximum [political] impact, he would have waited.”
Crenson, who was a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother of Bloomberg’s in college, instead sees it as a nod to Bloomberg’s roots as a scholarship-dependent student who worked as a parking-lot attendant at the Hopkins Club to help pay for school.
At the time, Hopkins’ tuition cost $1,200 — a much more manageable amount to pay, Crenson said.
“He wants to give other students who started out in his circumstances the same opportunities he had,” Crenson said.
Regardless of any future political aspirations, Bloomberg is sending a strong signal of the value of a college education for all Americans and the significant barriers that exist for many, said David Lublin, a professor of government at American University in Washington.
“It sets him up to make an argument that addressing some of these inequalities ... in terms of access to things like education, which allows people to move up in the world, is going to take large public investment,” he said.
Lublin dubbed the donation “the Amazon of university gifts,” comparing it to the online retailer’s high-profile, nationwide search for a location for its second headquarters, HQ2, promising to create 50,000 new jobs.
“What’s not to like?” he asked.
The donation will likely generate more philanthropy to Hopkins and other universities, said Joshua Smith, dean of the School of Education at Loyola University Maryland.
American academia is a decade behind where it should be, Smith said, in terms of inclusivity and socioeconomic equality in its student bodies. Funding efforts to retain — not just recruit — students of lower-income families will be key for Hopkins to make the most of Bloomberg’s money, he said.
“Access is important; open those doors,” Smith said. “But success means you’re afforded the full advantages and resources — access to professors, high-impact practices, study abroad, undergraduate resources, feeling part of the community.”
Bloomberg gifts to Hopkins
Michael Bloomberg has made a series of large donations to the Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater. Here is a list of some major ones.
2018: $1.8 billion for scholarships
2016: $300 million for the Bloomberg American Health Initiative to focus on public health issues
2016: $50 million for the Bloomberg–Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy
2013: $350 million to establish the Bloomberg Distinguished Professors and Bloomberg Scholarships
2012: $120 million for the new Johns Hopkins Hospital building
2001: School of Public health renamed the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in recognition of his donation of $289 million
1984: $1 million, establishing a professorship in honor of his mother, Charlotte Bloomberg
1965: $5, his first gift, one year after graduation