What a dollar (or 400 million of them) can do


What’s $400 million in the grand scheme of things anyway? A gift of $400 million might seem like a lot–especially to public colleges and universities–but to Harvard it’s only a drop in their $36 billion endowment bucket.

Having graduated from a regional public university (Missouri Southern State University), news of this gift to an already well-funded institution made me wonder: What could $400 million do at my alma mater and institutions like it? How far could a community college system stretch that money? How shocked will I be if I compare institutional endowments? Here are a few alternative ways to envision the impact of a $400 million gift:

  • It would multiply Missouri Southern’s endowment more than 12 times over. In per-student terms, adding $400 million to the pot would raise endowment from about $5,700 per student to just under $77,000 per student. Not bad for one gift from an alumnus.
  • It would eliminate the average net cost of in-state tuition and fees for four full years for just over 33,000 students at a four-year public institution. For scale, if we imagine that the entire undergraduate student body at the University of Missouri-Columbia paid US average in-state tuition, footing the bill for the outstanding tuition and fees after financial aid for each student for four years would still leave us with over $73 million burning a hole in our pocket.
  • Alternatively, if we look at the national average net cost of tuition, fees, room and board at public 2-year institutions, a $400 million gift could fund two years of study for 33,557 students. In more practical terms, $400 million would cover the entire net price (tuition, fees, books, supplies, weighted room and board) for all 24,000 students in the St. Louis Community College system for two years with a little shy of $40 million left to pass along to the St. Louis Community College Foundation.
  • A dollar (or 400 million of them) can mean very different things in different contexts. For elite institutions with many wealthy students and enormous endowments, receiving a monetary gift may be cause for celebration. For public institutions–especially community colleges and regional universities–it could mean the difference between students striving toward and actually achieving their educational goals.