Spelman College receives $100 million donation in single biggest HBCU endowment

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 22, 2024 6:57 AM EDT
Spelman College has received a historic $100 million donation. Photo credit: Spelman College

Spelman College has received a $100 million donation, the largest single gift to a historically Black college or university (HBCU). The historic donation comes as Spelman commemorates its 100th year since renaming in 1924.

“Let me share with you that this $100 million gift is the largest in Spelman’s history. It is also the largest single donation to any HBCU. Honestly, it’s a transformational gift to any institution, period. We are so grateful, proud, and inspired by this phenomenal gift,” Lovette Russell, Spelman Board Chair said about the donation.

The historic donation was made by longtime Spelman trustee Ronda Stryker and her husband, William Johnston. While Stryker is a director at Stryker Corporation, a medical technologies firm headquartered in Michigan, her husband Johnston is the chairman of the Greenleaf group of companies. Stryker, who is worth close to $8 billion according to Forbes, has also been a member of the Spelman College board of trustees since 1997.

The duo previously gave Spelman $30 million in 2018. Founded in 1881 as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, the college is one of two historically black women’s colleges. It is ranked first among HBCUs.

Three quarters of the donation will be committed towards endowed scholarships. This will ensure that brilliant students can pursue an education at Spelman regardless of financial constraints. The university is contributing to a more diverse and equitable future through investing in talented young Black women.

The remaining $25 million will be used to improve campus life conditions. The university plans on creating new avenues for intellectual exploration and growth with a focus on public policy and democracy. The funds will also cater to renovating dormitories and improving public safety.

“We are invigorated and inspired by this incredible act of generosity. This gift is a critical step in our school’s mission to eliminate financial barriers to starting and finishing a Spelman education. We can’t thank Ronda Stryker enough for her selflessness and support as both a trustee and friend. There’s no doubt that Spelman College is better because of her,” Dr. Helene Gayle, president of Spelman College said of the importance of the donation.

The donation follows $100 million gift from Lilly Endowment Inc. to United Negro Fund (UNCF), an organization that advocates for HBCUs and awards student scholarships earlier this month. The gift is the largest unrestricted private donation in the fund’s history. UNCF is building an endowment fund for its 37 member colleges, which include Spelman.

Funding for HBCUs

HBCUs have been historically underfunded compared to non-HBCUs in the United States. According to a 2022 report, for every $100 a predominantly white institution receives, a historically black college and university makes $1. Endowments constitute the largest chunk of income generated by many tertiary institutions, although public funding is also elemental.

Last September, US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona co-wrote a letter with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to 16 governors urging them to confront the underfunding of HBCUs in their states.

“Unacceptable funding inequities have forced many of our nation’s distinguished Historically Black Colleges and Universities to operate with inadequate resources and delay critical investments in everything from campus infrastructure to research and development to student support services,” Cardona noted around the time.