Is Bloomberg’s $1 Billion Medical School Gift the Biggest Ever?

Bloomberg’s gift to Johns Hopkins University is the second billion-dollar donation to a college or university just this year.
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Bloomberg Philanthropies' eye-popping $1 billion donation to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which will allow the university to offer free medical school to most of its students, is among the largest-ever donations to a university or higher ed system in the U.S.

It’s also a reminder of just how expensive college has become.

The donation from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic group covers tuition for medical school at Johns Hopkins for students from families earning less than $300,000 per year, beginning in fall 2024. That demographic represents 95% of Americans, according to a statement from the university. Students from families earning up to $175,000 per year will also have their living expenses covered, per the statement.

The annual tuition at Johns Hopkins’ medical school is $64,665, according to the university’s website. Several required additional fees and “indirect costs” such as housing and food bring the total annual cost to just over $102,000. Bloomberg’s gift is intended to assist qualifying students in perpetuity.

"As the U.S. struggles to recover from a disturbing decline in life expectancy, our country faces a serious shortage of doctors, nurses, and public health professionals — and yet, the high cost of medical, nursing, and graduate school too often bars students from enrolling," Bloomberg said in a statement. "By reducing the financial barriers to these essential fields, we can free more students to pursue careers they're passionate about."

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Bloomberg’s donation joins a slim list of higher-ed gifts exceeding the billion-dollar mark. Including this donation, there have been only four gifts of $1 billion or more given to a single university in recent decades, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracked higher-ed gifts from 1967 through July 2023.

In 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies gave $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins (also his alma mater), which remains the largest-ever gift to a university; it was earmarked exclusively for financial aid. In 2022, Stanford University received $1.1 billion from venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann; the money went toward launching the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. And earlier this year, Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and widow of a Wall Street investor, gave the medical school $1 billion to cover all students’ tuition in perpetuity.

That Bloomberg’s donations, as well as Gottesman’s $1 billion gift, are intended specifically for students’ tuition speaks to the rising cost of college. Since 1963, the average college tuition has more than tripled even after accounting for overall inflation, according to BestColleges.com, leading to a boom in student borrowing.

Earlier this month, interest rates on some federal student loans hit record highs, which raises the cost of college for students and their families who must borrow to afford college. Collectively, U.S. student loan borrowers owe $1.74 trillion in federal and private debt, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve.

In January 2024, NerdWallet’s annual household debt study found that the average U.S. household with student debt owes $55,573.

Biggest donations to a college or university in the U.S.

Below are the 10 largest single contributions to a college or university system in the U.S., according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, which did not include grants in its ranking. (The Chronicle stopped tracking these gifts in July 2023.)

  1. $1.8 billion, to Johns Hopkins University, from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to be used for financial aid. (2018)

  2. $1.1 billion, to Stanford University, from the Doerrs, to establish the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. (2022)

  3. $1 billion, to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, from Gottesman, to cover all students’ tuition in perpetuity. (2024)

  4. $1 billion, to Johns Hopkins University, from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to cover most students’ tuition in perpetuity. (2024)

  5. $750 million, to California Institute of Technology, from billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick, to fund environmental research. (2019)

  6. $650 million, to The Broad Institute, from philanthropist Ted Stanley, to fund mental illness research. (2014)

  7. $600 million, to California Institute of Technology, from billionaires Gordon and Betty Moore, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, for educational and scientific programs. 

  8. $600 million, to Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, from Florence and Herbert Irving, for cancer research. (2017)

  9. $550 million, to Western Michigan University, from an anonymous donor. (2021)

  10. $500 million, to Bard College, from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, $500 million; to establish an endowment and fund other initiatives. (2021)

(Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Bloomberg Philanthropies)

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