On June 28, Cornell received a $15 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies (Atlantic) to support financial aid for students in the Cornell Tradition program. The gift, which will be paid in three annual installments of $5 million each beginning this month, is one of the largest current-use gifts to undergraduate scholarships in Cornell's history.
The grant is intended to help the university meet its growing commitment to keep Cornell affordable for students from all financial backgrounds. In 2008, Cornell dramatically expanded its financial aid coverage by reducing, and in some cases eliminating, need-based student loans and requirements for parental contributions. The policy is costly, adding approximately $20 million per year to the university's undergraduate financial aid budget, which exceeded $198 million in the 2010-11 academic year.
The Cornell Tradition awards 545 fellowships per year to Cornell students who demonstrate significant work experience, a commitment to campus and community service and academic achievement. Atlantic's gift will support grant aid costs for students enrolled in the program, an expenditure that amounted to more than $12 million in the 2010-11 academic year.
"By directing its generous grant toward scholarship support for students in the Cornell Tradition, Atlantic is helping Cornell encourage undergraduates to pursue work and volunteer opportunities and to make it a priority to become involved in the life and welfare of the community," said President David J. Skorton. "This gift supports one of the university's most important missions -- to educate people who will go on to make lasting contributions to scholarly fields, science, the arts, business, and not least, to their communities and the world."
The Atlantic Philanthropies was founded by Cornell alumnus Chuck Feeney '56, who earlier this year signed the Giving Pledge, a movement initiated by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage America's wealthiest people to make a written commitment to giving away the majority of their money to charity. To explain his participation in the pledge, Feeney wrote: "I cannot think of a more personally rewarding and appropriate use of wealth than to give while one is living -- to personally devote oneself to meaningful efforts to improve the human condition."
Since 1982 Feeney's foundation has granted Cornell more than $600 million, making it possible for the university to maintain its need-blind admissions policy; recruit and retain faculty in key academic areas, including the life sciences, biological sciences and social sciences; launch new living-learning communities on North and West campuses; and pursue a wide range of other academic and campus life-related initiatives. The foundation's first major gift to the university, in 1983, established the Cornell Tradition program, which has since become a model for similar work and service scholarship programs around the country.
Worldwide, Atlantic has granted a total of $5.5 billion to bring about what the foundation calls "lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people." Atlantic's four areas of focus are aging, children and youth, population health, and reconciliation and human rights. Programs funded by Atlantic operate in Australia, Bermuda, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam.
Emily Sanders Hopkins is a staff writer in the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development.