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May 31, 2007

A Good Use of Funds

As an alum of the University of Chicago, and one who depended on a scholarship for much of his tuition, this makes me happy:

A graduate of the University of Chicago gave an anonymous donation of $100 million to his alma mater, marking the largest single donation given to an Illinois university. The money will be used to give full scholarships to about 800 lower-income students each academic year. The grants, called Odyssey Scholarships, will also pay partial tuition for another 400 of the 4,400 undergraduate students at the institution and fund a summer enrichment program for about 50 lower-income students before their first year of college.

I would have qualified. Oh, yes.

And more to the point, I credit my time at the U of C as being of critical importance to shaping my success out in the real world. I wouldn't be the same person -- and I doubt I would have the same success -- if I hadn't gone through its halls. It's a hell of a school, but it's definitely not cheap, and I think it would be a bad thing if kids like me, who would be right for the U of C (and for whom the U of C would be right for) had to cross it off their list because they simply couldn't afford it. So it's nice that the decision to attend is becoming easier for them.

Posted by john at May 31, 2007 11:55 AM

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Comments

Jude | May 31, 2007 12:31 PM

This is better than having a building built in your name. One of the years when I made $10,000, my daughter received a low-income grant which consisted of a computer and printer which she could use throughout her four years of college at the University of Colorado. I'm not sure why they ended that program, but it made a huge difference to us. She pieced together enough scholarships to cover her costs for the first year, and she muddled through with loans and work study for the remaining years, but this would have been so much better. I went to grad school on a $5,000 loan. She has $10,000 in loans from getting her bachelor's degree. College is expensive.

megan | May 31, 2007 12:50 PM

John,

when you opened your blog to reader questions I was too slow to respond. I wanted to ask about the essay in your U of C application. what did you write? will you put that on your list the next time you invite readers to pry?

there's a hundred and fifty million more offered in matching funds by the way . . .

John Scalzi | May 31, 2007 12:56 PM

Matching funds: Oh, even better. You know, I think I may have contributed some money to that. I give money to the U of C every year in any event.

College essay: It was talking about a particular artistic highlight and why it was so. For me, oddly enough, it wasn't from writing. If I can find it I might post it.

Douglas | May 31, 2007 01:07 PM

The money I spent on my college degree was easily the best investment I ever made.

Camron | May 31, 2007 01:41 PM

I miss the cherry blossoms.The lawn is kinda "meh".

College is a must these days. No jobs w/out a degree. My oldest is 11, and I've already got the funds working for all three (younger two are six and seven). Good for ye for contributing! Can I have some?

Hey, I meant to ask you - I just finished "Domesday Book" because a respected friend told me I had to read it. Didn't much care for it. Dry. Whattre your thoughts?

BTW - car is (finally) good. Got a new window and a free oil change out of that trial. Coolest. The boys are sorry they missed you, but they got Bottoms Up (Richmond's best, if you're ever here again) pizza out of the deal, so they're OK.

Smooches.

Tapetum | May 31, 2007 01:41 PM

Both of my parents are Chicago grads. My dad would have qualified for a grant like this in spades (rural E. Tennessee family). Yay for education funding!

Dave Munger | May 31, 2007 01:54 PM

Very cool! I would have qualified, too!

I wrote my Chicago essay on "is there such a thing as useless knowledge?"

I said there probably was, but it would be impossible to identify it as such.

Chryss | May 31, 2007 02:19 PM

Not a U of C grad (although my grandfather was), but I always tell people if it wasn't for the scholarship Antioch offered me, I couldn't have afforded community college. Three cheers for wonderful donors, and six cheers (double your fun) for giving to one's alma mater.

Bryan | May 31, 2007 02:25 PM

Does this mean you are not the anonymous donor? 8-)

Tim of Angle | May 31, 2007 05:10 PM

Well, I don't know -- people complain a lot about not being able to afford college, but I know that Yale has a public commitment to sufficient financial aid ("Once a student is admitted, Yale meets 100% of that student's demonstrated financial need."), and I'd be astonished were U of C not to have some equivalent.

I suppose it all depends on what price one is willing to pay for a good education. The G.I. Bill helped put me through Yale and Business School and Law School -- although, of course, unlike Roger Staubach, having the government pay for my schooling wasn't my reason for joining. I had classmates in grad school who worked full time and raised kids and still kept up pretty well; they certainly paid more in the long run than I did.

I don't give money to Yale because they've turned into a communist re-education camp, but U of C still has standards -- maybe I'll send them some money. Yeah, I like that idea.

Jason M. Robertson | May 31, 2007 05:53 PM

I believe that the UofC does have a need-blind admissions system, and one where they attempt to meet need. They did pretty well by me, back in the day, but I had hilariously obvious need. The emphasis here is on making sure that the solution offered is not crushing debt. This is a social good in many ways, including not forcing every poor or at least non-affluent kid who can't pay much up front to become a doctor, lawyer, or soul-free B-Schooler. Some of them might even be able to look at being academics, or working for non-profits, and other similarly good social roles that don't play well with graduating with six figures of debt itching to load up the interest.

David B | May 31, 2007 05:55 PM

With two kids in private or out-of-state public colleges, and (reasonably) getting little financial aid, I feel like I'm donating $100 million to higher education. I'm not. But it feels like it.

Anonymous | May 31, 2007 06:06 PM

More usefully, John's quite correct: good schools need to be available to kids who can get in, irrespective of their financial circumstances.

Brad Delong notes a WSJ article on the paradoxical rise in the economic value of a college education and the decline in proportion of high-school students who enrolled in college:
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/05/puzzling_colleg.html

David B. | May 31, 2007 06:06 PM

More usefully, John's quite correct: good schools need to be available to kids who can get in, irrespective of their financial circumstances.

Brad Delong notes a WSJ article on the paradoxical rise in the economic value of a college education and the decline in proportion of high-school students who enrolled in college:
http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2007/05/puzzling_colleg.html

Mary Anne Mohanraj | May 31, 2007 06:58 PM

My favorite U of C admissions essay (we wrote three, didn't we? am I making that up?) was one they asked, about Bruno Bettelheim and fairy tales -- I think I mostly ended up writing about Dungeons and Dragons. :-)

I'm delighted to hear about this grant!!!

Steve Buchheit | May 31, 2007 07:04 PM

Tim of Angle, "demonstrated financial need."

Well, there's the catch. Having made it through college of a revolving collection of scholarships, grants, loans and working 3 jobs (at the same time), the woman who became my wife doing roughly the same, I can state that the "demonstrated need" is usually below actual needs (like eating and not actually living in the classrooms). Considering this was during the 80s when the Federal Government was actually funding Pell Grants and the like, I can only imagine it's gotten worse.

Good on you, Scalzi, for giving back. I try also to help my alma mater when I can, targeting my donation to the programs that helped me.

Ewan | May 31, 2007 09:15 PM

I don't give money to Yale because they've turned into a communist re-education camp

Ummm.. no :). The last sponsored talk poster I remember, to pick one example, was William Buckley: "Proposed: That American Liberals Should Immediately Cease all Activity" or some such. Skull & Bones is hardly a hotbed of socialism (more's the pity!).

Overall - from the perspective of a current faculty member, which is either helpful or impossibly biasing :) - Yale is a place where I'm happy to see that intelligence is the prime virtue, and public service not far behind, with political affiliation almost a non-factor. When I did my postgrad work at UVa, it was obvious that I would not have been happy for a child of mine to go there; the opposite is true of Yale.

***

Separate note: I' always surprised that folks give to alumni funds. When one has received aid from such, it's more comprehensible, but I'm still not convinced that adding to Yale's endowment is the best use of my charitable giving :). [Plus, I like the idea from Heinlein - I think - of a group jointly funding a bright, poor, medical student; then a law student; then a dentist, etc., in exchange for free lifetime care. More direct, fewer overhead, more personal invovement, and cute.]

Jon Marcus | May 31, 2007 09:36 PM

Tim of Angle

I believe much of the grant goes towards converting loans into grants.

A U of C student with family income of $50k (I think that was one of the cutoffs?) would get a financial aid package. But they'd graduate with a boatload of debt. That makes it quite tough to said graduate to join the Peace Corps or take a job as a social worker or even just go on wanderjahr.

The gift is a very good thing, IMHO. And I'm not a U of C alumnus, or even a college grad.

Jon H | June 1, 2007 12:04 AM


Kinda wish there'd been a condition that U of Chicago never hire a torture-memo-writing sociopath like John Yoo.

Jon H | June 1, 2007 12:09 AM


Also: It's actually kind of regrettable that the huge donations like this tend to go to the well-endowed schools, which are also expensive schools, and hard to get into. The rich get richer, as usual.

I wonder if that money would have more impact if given to a lesser school. Lower tuition would mean more students could be helped, or the money could help bring quality of instruction up a few notches, at least in a department or two.

Nephele | June 1, 2007 01:47 AM

I wish I could remember what I wrote for my U of C application essay...

This gift to the University blows my mind. It's incredibly generous, and wonderful, and although I am, of course, rather biased, I can't imagine it going to a more deserving school. One of the things about U of C is that I always feel my contributions (considerably smaller than the one above) are used well.

Now if I could just figure out who the heck is doing well enough to shell out this kind of cash. Anonymous, indeed!

Greg | June 1, 2007 08:26 AM

"Also: It's actually kind of regrettable that the huge donations like this tend to go to the well-endowed schools, which are also expensive schools, and hard to get into. The rich get richer, as usual."
True in general -- though perhaps less true of U of C. When I was a student (admittedly, in the late 80s), over 33% of the students were the first people in their families to go to college.

lkp | June 1, 2007 10:54 AM

As someone who teaches there, it is so good to see all of this support for the U of C. I don't mean from the donor (though that is good too!); I mean from John and all the other alumni on this thread. Our students are great, and what Greg says is true --- many of them, and their families, are making big sacrifices to be able to go there. I'm so happy it has just become a little easier. I'm feeling especially mushy right now because convocation is next weekend, and I am just getting grades in for some favourite fourth-years. The U of C is not especially well-endowed --- nowhere in the same league as Harvard and Yale. Too many of our students become professors, we are told!

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