The University of Chicago has long been known for its Common Core—a curriculum based on the foundational texts of Western civilization, like Homer’s Greek epic The Odyssey. It was thus fitting that the financial-aid program designed to relieve tuition burdens on Chicago students, created in 2007 after an anonymous gift of $100 million, was called the Odyssey Endowment. The nameless donor (dubbed Homer) offered to immediately pay all annual costs so that the scholarships could be launched quickly, while requiring the university to raise matching funds suffcient to make the grants program a permanent endowment. The Odyssey Scholarships enable students whose family income falls below $60,000 per year to receive full rides. Those in the $60-75,000 range receive grants for half of their obligations. The gift was given, the donor wrote, “in the hopes that future generations of students will not be prevented from attending the college because of financial incapacity, and may graduate without the siren of debt distracting them from taking risks and fulfilling dreams.” Additional gifts, like a $50 million donation from Silicon Valley venture capitalist Michael Moritz in 2016, continued to further expand the tuition subsidy. The Odyssey program has led to increased matriculation of low- and moderate-income students at Chicago.
In 2017, another anonymous donor gave $140 million to another fine university—MIT—out of a similar interest in keeping that institution accessible to families of modest income. “As a past recipient of MIT’s generous financial aid, I benefited tremendously from the opportunity to pursue my MIT education,” stated the donor. “I am blessed to be able to give back to the Institute so other students can experience what I did.”
- Interview with anonymous donor, magazine.uchicago.edu/07910/features/epic_quest.shtml#homer
- Chicago Tribune news story, www-news.uchicago.edu/citations/07/070531.gift-ct.html
- MIT release, news.mit.edu/2017/mit-receive-140-million-unrestricted-gift-0607