Hillsdale College Shifts to Private Funding

  • Education
  • 1984

Founded in Michigan in 1844, Hillsdale College was built up in the early 1850s by hundreds of small private donations after professor and preacher Ransom Dunn rode more than 6,000 across the western frontier collecting funds to build a new hilltop campus. While eight out of ten American colleges founded before the Civil War would eventually close, this broad base of giving allowed Hillsdale to survive and prosper. Clear principles were central to Hillsdale’s appeal to donors. It was the first American college to prohibit in its charter any discrimination based on race, religion, or sex. It was the second college in the U.S. to grant four-year liberal arts degrees to women. It was a force for the abolition of slavery. During the Civil War, 400 Hillsdale students fought for the Union, a higher level of participation than from any other western college.

In the 1970s Hillsdale refused on philosophical grounds to comply with demands from the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that it count its student body by race. Courts ruled that because students brought federal student aid to the college, it must submit to any federal requirement. In response, Hillsdale announced that as of the 1984 school year it would withdraw from all forms of federal assistance. A few years later Grove City College took the same course for the same reason. In 2007, Hillsdale also stopped accepting funds from the state of Michigan, again to guard its independence of action.

To replace government aid and provide similar scholarship assistance to students, Hillsdale launched major efforts to raise private funds nationally. Today Hillsdale brings in approximately $50 million in donations every year, with private funding and investment income exceeding tuition and other revenues remitted by students, and zero reliance on public funds.