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 Thursday 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 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 have 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, a consortium of four historically Black schools.
“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 Thursday in its chapel on a CBS broadcast.
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 announced a donation of $100 million from the Lilly Endowment Inc. 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. Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, split $120 million among the United Negro College Fund, Spelman and Morehouse College. Former New York mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg pledged $100 million for student aid at the four historically Black medical schools.