Billionaire gives $20M to UMES

Mackenzie Scott

PRINCESS ANNE — An unprecedented donation of $20 million to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore is being considered in part for benefiting students unable to pay for higher education.

MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist and novelist who in her divorce settlement in 2019 to Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos left her with $35 billion, announced the disbursement of more than $4.16 billion to 384 organizations across the country, including 16 other historically Black institutions.

“We’re grateful to Ms. Scott for recognizing the great work we do at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore especially with first-generation college students and under-represented minorities,” said President Heidi M. Anderson.
Dr. Anderson said the funds will be used to make strategic investments to benefit students short- and long-term. Among UMES’ top priorities is financial assistance for students, many of whom are challenged in finding ways to pay for their college education.
“Most of this generous gift will be put in the university’s endowment,” Dr. Anderson said, increasing it from $30 million to $50 million.

The university’s largest donors previously included $4.5 million combined from Richard A. Henson and the Henson Foundation. Mr. Henson was founder of Henson Aviation which was later sold to Piedmont Airlines in 1983. His first gift to UMES was for $2 million in 1987.
In 2004, Richard F. “Dick” Hazel, former president of the Pepsi- Cola Bottling Co. in Salisbury, endowed $3 million for teacher education programs. In 2016, Delmarva Power pledged $1 million fora Green Collar Initiative, the largest corporate gift.

The funds from Ms. Scott are unrestricted. In an online post she wrote that the 384 carefully selected organizations “have dedicated their lives to helping others, working and volunteering and serving real people face-toface at bedsides and tables, in prisons and courtrooms and classrooms, on streets and hospital wards and hotlines and frontlines of all types and sizes, day after day after day.”
This past summer, Ms. Scott announced the release of $1.7 billion to support 116 organizations engaged in nine areas of interest to her, including Spelman and Morehouse colleges and Hampton, Howard, Tuskegee and Xavier (La.) universities, all private, historically Black institutions.
Ms. Scott called the COVID-19 pandemic “a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty. Meanwhile, it has substantially increased the wealth of billionaires.”
She challenged her advisers to identify “organizations with strong leadership teams and results, with special attention to those operating in communities facing high projected food insecurity, high measures of racial inequity, high local poverty rates, and low access to philanthropic capital.”

Ms. Scott wrote that her team looked at 6,490 organizations “and undertook deeper research into 822.” Some 438 are “on hold for now due to insufficient evidence of impact, unproven management teams, or to allow for further inquiry about specific issues such as treatment of community members or employees.”
After UMES made the cut intermediaries for Ms. Scott discretely approached President Anderson this fall as her team did research on potential beneficiaries for the next round of donations.
Even at public institutions like UMES, the pandemic put renewed focus on the role financial aid can play in helping students from families struggling economically to afford tuition, room and board, especially for minority students.

Other donations to higher education included $40 million to Morgan State University, $25 million to Bowie State University, and $20 million to Delaware State University — also the largest single contribution for each of them.
In 2019 Ms. Scott pledged “to give the majority of my wealth back to the society that helped generate it, to do it thoughtfully, to get started soon, and to keep at it until the safe is empty.”