A tiny college in Kansas is set to receive a $1 billion donation from an anonymous donor, one of the largest gifts ever in higher education.
McPherson College, which has about 800 students and says it’s the only place in the U.S. where you can get a bachelor’s degree in automotive restoration, embarked on a fundraising challenge last year when an anonymous donor pledged to donate as much as $500 million to the school. The idea was simple: The donor would kick in $2 for every $1 the school could raise by June 30, with a half-billion-dollar cap.
McPherson revealed Friday it had exceeded the goal, bringing in $342 million. In addition, the donor is doubling the gift to $1 billion.
“This reflects on the great work that our faculty, staff and students do at McPherson College,” Michael Schneider, the school’s president and a graduate from the class of 1996, said in an interview.
McPherson said the fundraising campaign and large gift will eventually give it an endowment north of $1.5 billion, a significant amount for a school that size and roughly on par with Vermont’s Middlebury College. Harvard University has the largest endowment in the US, at more than $50 billion, while liberal arts colleges Amherst and Williams were around $3.5 billion as of June 30, 2022.
The school has declined to provide details about the donor. But among McPherson’s graduates are billionaire Harry Stine and his son Myron, who run Iowa-based Stine Seed Co., the largest closely held seed wholesaler in the US. Harry graduated in 1963, while Myron is from the class of 1994 and joined the board of trustees in 2009.
A few years ago, Schneider traveled to Iowa in attempt convince Harry, who had doubts about the future of small colleges, that McPherson was a “good investment,” according to a first-hand account published on the school’s website in 2019. Schneider notes that Harry had signed the Giving Pledge, in which billionaires agree to give away a majority of their fortune.
The story describes the school as one of the Stines’ “top charities” and says that Harry did a “matching gift challenge” in the late ‘90s that raised more than $20 million.
McPherson declined to comment and the Stines didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Founded in 1887 and located about 190 miles southwest of Kansas City, McPherson is no ordinary college. A building at the school, Templeton Hall, is a playground for vintage car lovers, home to a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona worth upward of $600,000, a 1914 Ford Model T Speedster, and a curvaceous 1956 Austin Healey 100 M Le Mans, to name a few.
With a sticker price of about $180,000, a four-year degree from McPherson can lead to careers at restorers, auction houses and even private collections. At McPherson, a student project might include rewiring a 1932 Paul Harris Roadster or restoring a 1971 Corvette to National Corvette Restorers Society standards.
The college has gained some rich and famous fans. One of them is Jay Leno, former host of the Tonight Show and an avid car enthusiast. He has endowed two scholarships at McPherson.
“Much like art historians who clean and repair the works of the Renaissance era, the young men and women at McPherson College are doing it with automobiles, recreating abilities and techniques long forgotten, and they’ll make a good living doing it,” said Leno in a statement earlier this year. “Our hobby and heritage are safe in their hands.”
This article was provided by Bloomberg News.