With the American higher education system besieged by rising costs, escalating tuition, and a metastasizing student loan crisis, many experts are arguing for more affordable and accessible approaches to post-secondary education. Alternatives to four years of quad life include faster competency-based credentialing and models that stress online learning.
At least a few donors are on board, like Chicago financier Larry Gies and his wife Beth. The couple recently gave $150 million to the University of Illinois to “use technology to democratize” education, among other things. By exploring how online courses can lower costs and remove barriers to entry, the Gieses are among the few mega-donors addressing the root causes of the student loan crisis.
More typical are donors who have fond memories of their campus years and are determined that future generations be able to enjoy the same kind of experience—or better. Recent news out of Tennessee reminds us that many donors remain committed to the immersive benefits of a residential college experience.
Vanderbilt University board of trust chairman Bruce R. Evans and his wife Bridgitt committed $20 million to support university initiatives focused on the “undergraduate living-learning experience.” The gift also includes support for leadership positions in the School of Engineering and an unrestricted bequest for future use.