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The University of Chicago receives anonymous $100 million gift for undergraduate financial aid

May 30, 2007

The University of Chicago has announced that an anonymous donor and College alumnus has given a $100 million gift, the largest in University history, to be used in the launch of a $400 million undergraduate student aid fundraising initiative at Chicago.

“This gift ensures that the most talented students, no matter their economic circumstances, will have the opportunity to benefit from the uniquely powerful and rigorous Chicago education,” said University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “Providing access to the College for these students comports with our highest values, is central to our mission, and has the potential to greatly enrich the life opportunities for our students and their families for generations to come.  We are deeply grateful for this extraordinary gift and the inspiration it provides for others to support students and the University.”

The $100 million gift, which is entirely expendable over 15 years, will establish Odyssey Scholarships, a program that will allow the University to reduce student loans among undergraduate students whose families demonstrate low or moderate income and high financial need. For those students whose annual family income is less than $60,000, the loans could be replaced entirely by grants, and for families whose income is between $60,000 and $75,000, the loans could be cut in half.

“I am giving this gift to the University of Chicago because I believe it had a profound effect on my life and in particular on allowing me to survive untold failures and persevere in mad adventures that have rewarded me with the financial resources to make this gift,” said the donor in a written statement.  “I give this gift in the hopes that future generations of students will not be prevented from attending the College because of financial incapacity and may graduate without the siren of debt distracting them from fulfilling unremunerative dreams.”

Odyssey Scholarships will go into effect in the fall of 2008 and provide assistance to all qualified students in the College. Almost 1,200 undergraduates, including international students, are expected to benefit from the program at a time — almost 25 percent of the entire College enrollment.

As part of Odyssey Scholarships, about 50 students who could benefit from a summer enrichment program to prepare them for their College experience will be invited to campus during the summer before their first year to spend eight weeks working with faculty. Those students will also be relieved of work-study during their first year in the College in order to help them engage more fully in their academic experience.

The $100 million also includes a component designed to challenge the University to raise an additional $300 million and to create incentive for other donors to contribute to endowment to support the program beyond the first 15 years of funding.

“Although I fell far from the academic vine, my education in the College convinced me (in a way that no event or person has yet to undermine) that I was in fact, as Hanna H. Gray declared at my graduation, somehow a worthy citizen of an ancient and honorable community of scholars.  The self-esteem that comes from a sense of citizenship in that tradition, however upon reflection marred it may be, has been the simple fixed point of the Archimedean comedy of my personal and professional successes,” the donor wrote in reflecting on the enduring influence of his Chicago education.

A central part of the College education is the Core curriculum, which Dean of the College John Boyer believes to be the heart of what makes the College experience so distinct.

Boyer said, “I am delighted that this gift comes to us on the 75th anniversary of the College’s Core curriculum, the general-education curriculum which has been central to creating and sustaining the University’s distinctive interdisciplinary character and which does so much to shape the intellectual skills and values and the subsequent professional careers of our undergraduate students. This gift will ensure that all talented and qualified students, regardless of family resources, will be able to participate in the University of Chicago’s great educational traditions,” Boyer said.

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Last modified at 12:21 PM CST on Thursday, April 10, 2008

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