KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University on Tuesday announced it is has been gifted a massive $550 million donation, saying the money will support its mission as an “opportunity university.”
“I am honored to tell you that we have received a profoundly generous gift from graduates of Western Michigan University,” WMU President Edward Montgomery said during a press conference. “It is transformative in its nature, its size and its scope and it will revolutionize the inclusiveness and impact of our educational community now and for generations to come.”
The dollars, which will start flowing into the university in time to be used during the upcoming fiscal year and will continue over the next decade, will be split to three main chunks. Though its uses will be varied, one common thread is equity and making schooling more accessible to low-income and students of color.
“Our young people are demanding that we commit ourselves to furthering social justice on campus and preparing them to be positive forces off it,” Montgomery said.
$300 MILLION TO MEDICAL SCHOOL
The largest portion of $300 million will go to the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine. Dr. Paula Termuhlen, who has been dean of the school of medicine for only about a month, said she believes every single medical student should be able to get some sort of aid.
“We’re going to look both in our backyard and look a far to get the best people we can into our medical school and now we’ll have the resources to not just attract them, but then to support them,” Termuhlen said.
“Everyone was pretty excited right away and pretty curious about that meant for us,” Mellissa Pellman a third-year medical student and president of the medical school student body, said of the donation.
She said as soon as the news broke, students headed online and started messaging each other about how the money would be spent.
“I’m hoping that this $300 million can go to even more scholarships for students. We already have a wonderful campus — that was kind of what the first endowment went toward. So maybe this can kind of go toward growing our student body and really making a name for ourselves,” she said.
Scholarships are a deciding factor for some students when it comes to choosing a medical college because tuition is so expensive. She said it costs roughly $100,000 a year for tuition and housing. Most students pay out of pocket.
“It’s kind of a lot of debt to go into at this time, but it’s totally worth it to become a doctor,” Pellman said.
Termuhlen, the dean, said she is committed to increasing scholarships as well as financial support for current juniors and seniors.
“We’ll have some opportunities for people to have their entire education paid for, others that will have a portion of their education paid for, and even some that will have some of their additional costs of living paid for,” the dean said.
Some of the $300 million will also support recruiting to diversify the medical field and improve health equity. Some was earmarked to finish renovations on two floors the medical school. Another portion will be used for initiatives like student-run clinics that serve the Kalamazoo community.
It remains to be seen what else the donation could cover.
“It’s really hard to understand how much money that is and what it could really pay for,” Pellman said.
$200 MILLION TO WMU
Montgomery said another $200 million will go to a number of WMU programs including academic and room and board scholarships — the details of which are still being finalized but which are expected to vary in size and eligibility.
Funds will also pay for staff recruiting, paid experiential learning for students and campus mental health care.
“Students thrive in learning environments where they feel both challenged and supported,” Montgomery said.
$50 MILLION TO ATHLETICS
The remaining $50 million will go to the athletic department. WMU Director of Athletics Kathy Beauregard said the donation would strengthen “efforts to support student-athletes.”
“What this has done, sent a message across the country, the largest gift,” Beauregard said. “We like being number one.”
The donation comes at a time when Bronco athletics were struggling financially. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the department hard. WMU’s athletic budget was slashed by $6 million last year. WMU’s head football coach, head hockey coach and Beauregard took 25% pay cuts.
“There is no doubt this is going to provide us a little bit easier job coming in every single day, getting through COVID,” Beauregard said.
The Broncos think the financial boost will help attract top athletes from diverse backgrounds.
“Gives us an advantage, no doubt,” Beauregard said. “Recruitment of students and student-athletes is what it’s all about. So, when student-athletes read about this story and what we’re doing at WMU, it’s going to make a tremendous impact.”
The department hasn’t yet announced how it’ll spend the money, however, Beauregard says four core values will be reflected in the dispersal of funds. The Broncos will look to be competitive, follow rules, prioritize academics for athletes and work on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.
“These alumni … really want to see an impact on the students’ lives and change in our society and opportunities for social justice,” Beauregard said. “Not just opportunities on the field or the court or wherever that is, but to actually work on leadership, grow mental health, education, all the different things.”
As the athletic department begins to work on a plan on how to spend the money, there’s more good news for Bronco fans. The university recently announced it’ll allow a full capacity for the upcoming football season. WMU’s home opener is on Sept. 11 against Illinois State.
“We’re just going to have fun figuring out where we can utilize those the most, impacting the student-athlete welfare, which is first and foremost,” Beauregard said.
The Washington Post was the first to report Tuesday the nature of what the university had teased as a “major announcement.”
Calling the donation “historic,” Montgomery said it is the largest ever given to any public university in the country. He said it will have a “deep and lasting impact.”
“This is truly a groundbreaking gift with unprecedented potential to absolutely transform our institution and how we serve our students, our community and the broader society,” he said. “It will enable us to redefine the opportunities that we can offer, to live up to our potential as a diverse, welcoming and inclusive campus that gives everyone a chance to discover a passion, to hone in on their own purpose, to explore the possibilities, and deliver on the promise so that all may learn.”
Montgomery offered profuse thanks to the donors. WMU Foundation Executive Director Kristen DeVries said it is emblematic of the “special nature” of Kalamazoo and its commitment to “open access to quality education.”
The donors have chosen to remain anonymous, but based on News 8’s research, there are few people it could be. There are only two WMU alumni on Forbes’ list of billionaires.
One is Ronda Stryker, who is worth $6.7 billion. The Stryker family, which owns Kalamazoo-based medical device manufacturer Stryker Corp., is worth $14 billion all together.
Ronda Stryker and her husband anonymously donated $100 million to start the medical school a decade ago. Their names became public three years later when the medical school was renamed for late family patriarch Homer Stryker.
The only other billionaire alumnus that News 8 could find is businessman Alec Gores, who is worth $3 billion.
—News 8’s Kyle Mitchell contributed to this report.