Western Michigan gets $550M gift from anonymous alumni

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A group of anonymous alumni has gifted $550 million to Western Michigan University.

The school in Kalamazoo will receive the funding over 10 years. It will be divided among scholarships, investing in quality educators, advancing medical research and education, and bolstering Western Michigan athletics.

“Thanks to the incredible generosity and foresight of these donors who’ve chosen to bestow this generous gift, we’ll be able to make a difference for students who are here today and for the next 100 years,” school President Edward Montgomery said during Tuesday’s announcement of the Empowering Futures Gift.

It is the largest gift ever made to a public, higher education institution in the United States, according to Western Michigan.

The school said $300 million is being donated to the university’s Stryker School of Medicine and another $200 million is for the university as a whole. Western Michigan’s Athletics Department will receive $50 million.

“I’m so pleased to see that that donation was made, because we’re responsible for our country’s recovery,” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said Tuesday while touring a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, just west of Detroit.

Cardona said the coronavirus pandemic reinforces how much everyone has a part to play in repairing the nation.

“We all have a responsibility,” he added. “So, to the donor and to the recipients, it’s going to take that mentality for us to recover and build back better as a country.”

Western Michigan’s main campus in Kalamazoo is about 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of Detroit. It has more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Many face financial hurdles in pursuing higher education, according to Montgomery.

Though the city and university have done much to bridge financial barriers, namely the Kalamazoo Promise that covers 100% of post-secondary education for eligible Kalamazoo public high school graduates, other barriers highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic in minority and rural communities have been re-examined.

The Empowering Futures Gift will allow Western Michigan to “deepen our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice across our campuses and to provide opportunities for students who might not otherwise have access to the social mobility of a college degree or the opportunity to become a doctor,” Montgomery said.

Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Nichols reported from Lansing.