The wealthiest among us once again opened their pocketbooks for their favorite charities in 2013, and institutions of higher learning were prime recipients of their largesse. A handful of business tycoons doled out a minimum of $100 million to eight colleges and universities last year, showing their support for education and research in a very generous manner.
Most of these schools' names are familiar, as are those of the donors. In some way, each school has made an indelible mark on some of the richest Americans -- and here are the results of that familiarity and affection, from the largest gift to the smallest.
Oregon Health and Science University was able to talk Phil and Penelope Knight into a $500 million contributionto its long-term cancer research project -- with one caveat: the school must raise a matching amount within two years in order to receive the money.
Neither Knight, co-founder and chair of Nike, nor his wife ever attended OHSU, but they apparently love the place anyway. If the school is able to collect on the couple's latest gift, it will bring the Knights' donation total over the past five years to a cool $750 million.
Another philanthropic heavy-hitter, former New York City mayor and John Hopkins alumnus Michael Bloomberg committed another $350 million to the university last January, pushing his total benevolence to the school he credits for his success to $1.1 billion.
Charles Johnson, former chair of Franklin Resources, gave his alma mater Yale University its biggest one-time donation ever -- $250 million -- last September. The gift, given following Johnson's retirement from the board of the company that includes Franklin Templeton Investments, will be used for the expansion of Yale's residential college system.
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor received two sizable donations last year: $200 million from Manhattan real estate developer and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, and $110 million from Warren Buffett's partner Charlie Munger. Both donations are geared toward infrastructure needs, with Ross' gift to be used to spruce up buildings used by the business school and athletic department. Munger's contribution will be put toward the creation of a 600-room graduate dorm in downtown Ann Arbor.
Stanford University was graced with a $151 million contribution by John Arrillaga, a wealthy real estate developer in California. The gift was the largest ever received by Stanford from a living donor.
In the $100 million donation category are Sanford Weill, former Citigroup chair, and his wife Joan, who gave Cornell's Weill Cornell Medical College a boost last September, bringing to $600 million the total amount bestowed upon the school by the couple over the past 15 years.
Handing over the same amount to the University of California at San Diego was T.Denny Sanford, chair and CEO of United National Corp. in South Dakota. Sanford's gift will establish the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at the university.
Last -- but not least -- was Frank McCourt's $100 million donation to Georgetown University, his alma mater as well as that of his father, two of his brothers, and one of his sons. The donation by the colorful former Dodgers owner, remembered for his messy divorce that led the team into bankruptcy, will create the McCourt School of Public Policy.
Will 2014 induce similar benevolence? Judging from the multiple gifts given to these eight institutions, I'd say the answer will be yes. Catering to alumni has always been a big part of the higher education business, and considering payoff for these colleges and universities, one with a very high return on investment.
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