Stanford's Massive Push in Graduate Scholarships

University announces $400 million gift to help create $750 million endowment for program to attract the best talent from around the world.

February 24, 2016
Stanford University
John L. Hennessy

Stanford University today announced a $400 million gift that will help launch a new scholarship program to attract the best graduate and professional students from around the world.

The university is already close to its goal of a $750 million endowment for the program, which will admit 100 students a year for up to three years of study -- fully funded, including living expenses -- in one of the university's graduate or professional schools. The students will be nominated by their undergraduate institutions. Those in M.D. and Ph.D. programs, which typically take longer than three years to complete, will have the option of additional years of funding.

All students in the program will also receive leadership training and attend special programs that will draw the students together across their fields of study.

The program will be called the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program. The first part of the name honors Philip H. Knight, who earned his M.B.A. from Stanford, co-founded Nike Inc. and is giving $400 million for the program. The second part of the name honors John L. Hennessy, who is concluding his presidency of Stanford and who will direct the program after he finishes his work as president.

A faculty committee will soon set specific criteria for awarding the scholarship. In addition to high achievement in academics, leadership and civic commitment will be among the qualities that Stanford will seek. Stanford's announcement also says the university will seek to award the scholarships to people from "a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities."

The university also announced a $100 million gift, specifically to finance scholarships in the program for those from "less economically developed regions of the world."

Stanford's new program also comes amid something of an international competition for the top graduate student talent.

For decades, the pre-eminent international scholarship program for graduate students from around the world has been the Rhodes Scholarships, which currently are awarded to 89 students a year (32 from the United States) for study at the University of Oxford.

In 2000, Bill and Melinda Gates donated $210 million to the University of Cambridge to create a scholarship program for study there. Of the 95 new scholarships awarded each year, about 40 are to students from the United States.

In 2013, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the founder of Blackstone, gave $100 million to create a scholarship program to bring global talent to Tsinghua University in a program explicitly modeled on the Rhodes Scholarships. That program last month announced its inaugural class of 111 students. They were selected from more than 3,000 applicants and come from 32 countries and 75 universities. Nearly half (44 percent) come from the U.S., 21 percent come from China and 35 percent come from the rest of the world.

Criticism of Big Gifts to Wealthy Institutions

The gift to Stanford also comes at a time when mega-gifts to already wealthy institutions have come under scrutiny, with many questioning whether such donations are needed when many other institutions lack resources. A $400 million gift to Harvard University last year for its engineering programs drew many critical responses, including this essay in Inside Higher Ed.

It's too soon to know if Stanford will face similar criticism, but many of those who raise questions about the spending of the wealthiest colleges and universities have argued that they should spend more on scholarships, as opposed to launching new programs or building new facilities, so the emphasis of the Stanford program may shield it from some critics of other mega-donations.


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