Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and alumnus of the Class of 1964, announced today that he will donate $1.8 billion to the University. The gift, which will be used exclusively for undergraduate financial aid, is the largest donation to any U.S. college or university in history.
The donation will allow the University to permanently conduct need-blind admissions, which means that family income will not be considered in the admissions process. Hopkins will also eliminate student loans from financial aid packages and instead offer scholarships that do not need to be repaid, beginning fall 2019. For spring 2019, the University will offer immediate loan relief to undergraduates whose financial aid package includes a federal need-based loan. Currently, over 44 percent of Hopkins students graduate with loan debt, which averages above $24,000.
In an interview with The News-Letter, University President Ronald J. Daniels explained that Bloomberg’s donation comes after almost a year of discussions about the University’s needs and priorities. Prior to this gift, Bloomberg has contributed $1.5 billion to the University.
“It is overwhelming in its magnitude what Mike has done,“ Daniels said. “Not only does this constitute — by a wide margin — the largest gift that’s been given to a university in this country, but it’s the purpose, the fact that Mike signaled that it’s all about accessibility and the membership in our community.”
For Daniels, making Hopkins a more accessible school is a personal priority. Last year, he and his wife, Joanne Rosen, established a $1 million financial aid endowment for students who are the first in their families to attend college. Daniels explained that higher education significantly changed his family’s future when his father and his two siblings immigrated to Canada from Poland.
“It was a classic story of a family without means. Each of my dad’s siblings, and my dad, all pursued higher education and as a consequence everything changed for them,“ he said. “I know how much our lives were impacted by virtue of my dad’s receipt of education and, when I think of Johns Hopkins and what I am privileged to be able to do as president of this University — to the extent that I can open up the doors to more people who have the backgrounds that I have — that is something that is particularly meaningful to me.”
The University will also use Bloomberg’s donation to provide resources for first-generation, middle and low income students by funding research opportunities, study abroad or unpaid internships, and implement an outreach program to inform low income high school students of financial aid opportunities available to them at Hopkins. In addition, the University plans to increase the enrollment of Pell Grant eligible students to 20 percent of the student body by 2023. According to data collected by US News & World Report for the 2016-2017 school year, 12 percent of Hopkins students receive Pell Grants. According to Daniels, these efforts will let students of disadvantaged backgrounds know that they will be supported at Hopkins.
“Great institutions of higher education are ones in which you have the very best students and the very best faculty,“ he said. “In the case of students, without financial aid and without simple and clear messaging around the kind of assistance that’s available, students from more disadvantaged backgrounds won’t come to this institution, or any institution that has the kind of posted tuition levels that we have.”
In an op-ed for The New York Times, Bloomberg wrote that he was able to afford his Hopkins tuition by taking out a National Defense student loan and working an on-campus job. He hopes that his gift will allow Hopkins to admit students based on their qualifications not based on their financial circumstances.
“I want to be sure that the school that gave me a chance will be able to permanently open that same door of opportunity for others,” he wrote.
When Junior Cyndy Vasquez first heard about Bloomberg’s donation, she was excited that Hopkins will be expanding financial aid for students. Vasquez is a board member for the First-Generation, Limited-Income (FLI) Network, and hopes that the gift will increase support for students who come from similar backgrounds to her.
“When I got into Hopkins, it was a very exciting time. But for my parents, they asked, “Can we afford this?” she said. “They’ve had to refinance our house to be able to pay for my tuition this year so seeing that [Hopkins] will improve financial aid and attempt to recruit more low-income and first-generation college students is great. We are a really small community on campus now so being able to grow that will be exciting.”
James Chen, Class of 2018, wrote in an email to The News-Letter that he was amazed by the size of Bloomberg’s gift. Chen graduated this spring with student loans and was disappointed that he will not benefit from the donation. However, he believes that increasing financial aid resources will help future students.
“I think it will shift the balance of the incoming classes at Hopkins to include more students that do not come from positions of advantage. It will also ease the burden for when students are job hunting or taking out loans for graduate schools,“ he wrote
For senior Ramya Prabhakar, financial aid was the deciding factor in her choice to attend Hopkins. She receives a Bloomberg Scholarship, which provides need-based aid to undergraduate students with outstanding academic ability and potential. It was also made possible by a gift from Michael Bloomberg.
“The finances were make or break for my family,” she said. “If I hadn’t gotten the scholarship or if I had gotten the same package with loans, I wouldn’t have been able to attend Hopkins.”
Over the summer, Prabhakar worked for Bloomberg Philanthropies, an opportunity she said she was afforded because she is a Bloomberg Scholar. Prabhakar hopes that increasing financial aid will be one of many steps Hopkins takes to become more accessible to students of different backgrounds.
“Not only am I a huge recipient of financial aid and very dependent on it, but I am also a college consultant for low-income students. What I’ve seen is that students get into their dream schools and are not able to afford it,“ she said. “Financial aid is a huge way to equalize the playing field for those students, so when I hear about schools like Hopkins who get this money and decide to get rid of loans, I am really proud to be part of a school that places that emphasis.”
Emily McDonald contributed reporting.
Editor’s Note: Ramya Prabhakar has contributed once to The News-Letter. She was not involved in the reporting or editing of this piece.