Atlanta’s Spelman College gets largest-ever single HBCU donation

Associated Press | 1/25/2024, 6 p.m.
A billionaire couple is giving $100 million to Atlanta’s Spelman College, which the women’s school says is the largest-ever single ...
Participants in the Spelman College 136th commencement celebrate in College Park, Ga., in May 2023. Historically Black colleges and universities, which had seen giving from foundations decline in recent decades, have seen an increase in gifts —- particularly from corporations and corporate foundations over the past several years. Photo by Julie Yarbrough, Spelman College via The Associated Press

ATLANTA - A billionaire couple is giving $100 million to Atlanta’s Spelman College, which the women’s school says is the largest-ever single donation to a historically Black college or university.

The donation was announced last week by Ronda Stryker and her husband, William Johnston. She is the billionaire granddaughter of the founder of medical device-maker Stryker Corp., and he is the chairman of money management firm Greenleaf Trust. They live in Michigan.

Spelman officials said that it would use $75 million to endow scholarships. The rest of the money will be used for other purposes, including developing an academic focus on public policy and democracy, and improving student housing, a sore point in recent years among Spelman students.

“It’s a transformational gift to any institution, period,” trustee Lovette Russell said. HBCUs traditionally have had small endowments compared with other colleges, but have seen an increase in donations since the racial justice protests spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Spelman, which has about 2,400 students, has been relatively well-funded, though, reporting an endowment of $571 million in 2021. It’s one of only two historically Black women’s colleges and part of the Atlanta University Center Consortium — a group of four historically Black schools that includes Spelman, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Morehouse School of Medicine.

“I think it says that it’s worth investing in HBCUs more broadly, schools that have been far too underinvested in,” Spelman College President Helene Gayle told CBS News. The college announced the donation in its chapel on a CBS broadcast.

Ms. Stryker has been a Spelman trustee since 1997. She and Johnston gave Spelman $30 million in 2018. They also gave $100 million in 2011 to create the Homer Stryker medical school at Western Michigan University.

The Spelman donation comes a week after the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) announced a donation of $100 million from the Lilly Endowment. That gift will go toward a pooled endowment for the 37 historically Black colleges and universities that form UNCF’s membership, including Spelman, with the goal of boosting the schools’ long-term financial stability. The fund is trying to raise $370 million for a shared endowment.

Other big donations to HBCUs in recent years include the $560 million MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, gave in 2020 to 22 Black colleges, the UNCF and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, another fundraising arm.

Also in 2020, Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, split $120 million among the United Negro College Fund, Spelman and Morehouse College. And former New York mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg pledged $100 million for student aid at the four historically Black medical schools.

In addition, Robert F. Smith, the billionaire businessman who famously paid off the student loan debt for Morehouse students in 2020, two years later announced that his Student Freedom Initiative’s partnership with Prudential Financial to provide $1.8 million in microgrants to HBCU students.

According to a news release, Prudential also was to provide paid internships and pro bono services to enable improved financial literacy for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) families and students.