Pledge boosts Duke mission

$75 million gift for financial aid

Staff WriterOctober 4, 2005 

At Duke University, where the price of an undergraduate education is $41,239 a year, President Richard Brodhead wants the campus open to all top-notch students, regardless of their families' ability to pay.

A $75 million gift from the Duke Endowment of Charlotte -- the largest single donation received by the university -- will go a long way toward making that goal a reality, Brodhead said Monday.

"I'm elated and yet at the same time profoundly humbled by this gift," Brodhead told Duke Endowment board members. "I can't imagine a more deeply fulfilling moment in my career as leader of this university."

Since assuming the presidency at Duke in July 2004, Brodhead has made it a priority to strengthen the university's financial aid endowment. This year, Duke included $55 million in its budget for undergraduate financial aid -- 7.7 percent more than last year.

The Duke Endowment was established as a charitable trust in 1924 by industrialist James Buchanan Duke. During the past 81 years, the endowment has grown to nearly $2.5 billion.

On Monday, board members gathered in Perkins Library at Duke to announce the $75 million commitment -- $25 million a year for the next three years.

Russell M. Robinson, chairman of the Duke Endowment, said the board was committed to a student body with gender, racial and socioeconomic diversity. In making its largest single gift in the endowment's history, the board also acknowledged its confidence in Brodhead.

Although he did not reveal details, Brodhead said the endowment's grant will be used to solicit matching funds that could essentially double the size of the gift.

The Duke Endowment recently helped enhance the financial aid package with its $7 million Carolinas Challenge. When that challenge ended June 30, the contributions of 342 donors had been matched by the endowment to yield more than $21 million for 78 new and 19 existing scholarships.

Brodhead said it was too early to know how many students the $75 million gift would help.

"In any one year, it will enable us to help tens and hundreds of students," said Brodhead. "As the endowment grows, it will support more and more students over time, and then it will help thousands -- literally thousands."

Duke students lauded the announcement. In 2004, nearly 43 percent of Duke undergraduates got financial assistance from the university. The average annual grant was about $21,500.

"I feel like a lot of students have to pick their college based on money," said Rebecca Borns, 19, a sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla. "Now they can pick based on what school fits them best and has opportunities they want rather than what they can afford."

Amanda Lee, 19, a sophomore from Princeton, N.J., added: "I think it's incredibly generous. Money usually is a huge factor for people. I know Duke has had this commitment of admitting people without first looking at financial aid. Now they can back that up even more."

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.

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