Harper receives record $18 million donation from MacKenzie Scott

  • Harper College announced Tuesday the largest gift in the Palatine community college's history: $18 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

    Harper College announced Tuesday the largest gift in the Palatine community college's history: $18 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced Tuesday that she has given $2.7 billion to 286 organizations, including $18 million to Harper College in Palatine.

    Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott announced Tuesday that she has given $2.7 billion to 286 organizations, including $18 million to Harper College in Palatine. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File

 
 
Updated 6/16/2021 6:31 AM

Harper College officials Tuesday announced receipt of an $18 million donation from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, in what is the largest gift in the Palatine community college's 54-year history.

"It's hard to wrap your mind around it, still," said college President Avis Proctor. "I still get chills thinking about this."

 

The unrestricted gift is among more than $2.7 billion awarded to 286 "high-impact organizations in categories and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked," Scott announced in a blog post Tuesday.

Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, gave a combined $6 billion to other groups in two similar surprise disbursements last July and December.

Harper was among more than 30 colleges and universities selected for funding in the latest round, which also included the University of Illinois-Chicago ($40 million) and City Colleges of Chicago's Kennedy-King College ($5 million).

"Higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity, so we looked for 2- and 4-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved," Scott wrote.

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She wrote that her advisers spent the first quarter of 2021 identifying and evaluating equity-oriented nonprofit groups working in areas that have been neglected. Awardees were selected through a "rigorous process of research and analysis," she said.

Proctor said she was bound by Scott's confidential selection process to keep the donation secret from even most of her staff until Tuesday morning. Proctor confirmed that Harper didn't go through an application process for the funds; Scott's representatives reached out to the college.

"They go through a process and look for organizations doing really good work, and we were glad we were in that sphere," Proctor said. "We have a strong student success and equity agenda that we as an institution have put in place."

College officials haven't yet decided exactly how they'll split up the $18 million, but it will be a balance between immediate needs brought on by the pandemic, and long-term initiatives, Proctor said.

That could include tuition relief for students hardest hit by the pandemic, efforts to reduce equity gaps, advance academic innovation, and increase student access through scholarships and basic needs support, officials said in a news release.

Harper has notched other seven-figure donations from three different groups or individuals, though none as large as Scott's gift. John and Rita Canning have given a total of $1.7 million in recent years; the Foglia Family Foundation gave $1.5 million in 2015 and 2018, and Kim Duchossois gave $1.25 million in 2015 and 2019.

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