Michael R. Bloomberg's historic $1.8 billion gift to Johns Hopkins, the largest-ever single contribution to a higher education institution, will have a profound impact on the accessibility and diversity of the university's undergraduate programs. Johns Hopkins Magazine spoke to Bloomberg about the financial aid endowment and his commitment to giving.
In the op-ed published in The New York Times, you write that high-achieving applicants from low- and middle-income families are routinely denied seats at colleges and universities across the country that are saved for students whose families have deeper pockets. What impact does this have?
Higher education is one of the most powerful engines of economic mobility in America. My own story bears this out. I came to Johns Hopkins from a working-class family, whose father never made more than $6,000 a year. Through a federal scholarship program and a job on campus, I was able to attend a university that opened doors for me I never imagined possible.
We should never allow the size of a student's bank account to limit her or his ability to fulfill their potential. The American Dream depends on equal opportunity, and the future of our country depends on giving talented young people the chance to pursue their dreams. The cure for cancer or the next big technological breakthrough could be developed by someone from any economic background. It's up to us to make sure they have the chance.
Your gift will, in your words, make the campus more socioeconomically diverse. What transformative effect do you hope your gift will have on the composition of students at Johns Hopkins, and the overall academic experience here?
Students and faculty at Hopkins are tackling some of society's greatest challenges. Bringing a diversity of perspectives and life experiences to the campus is critically important to that. The more society becomes segmented and clustered around like-minded people—which breeds a lack of understanding of opposing viewpoints, as we see in our politics—the more important it is for colleges and universities to be places where people of all different backgrounds mix and share ideas and debate. We learn more from people who are different from us than we do from people who are similar.
Your foundation started a program called CollegePoint to counsel low- and middle-income students about their college options and financial aid/scholarship opportunities. What was the impetus for it?
Too often, students who are the first in their family to consider college, or who are from low-income backgrounds, set their sights too low when it comes to the college admissions process, simply because they are unaware of their options. CollegePoint has proven we can change that. We have reached some 56,000 high school students, many of whom are now attending some of the nation's finest schools. As part of my financial aid gift, Hopkins is exploring new approaches to that kind of outreach to high schools, guidance counselors, and community organizations, to reach the broadest possible audience in implementing the gift.
You asked others (graduates, individual donors, state and federal governments) to join you in committing more money to financial aid. What is your message to others of why they should follow your lead? Even, like you say, just a $5 gift.
College access and affordability is a national crisis in need of national solutions. Federal grants have not kept pace with rising costs, and states have slashed student aid. It will require leadership from lawmakers in Washington and state capitals to reverse these trends.
At the same time, there's nothing more rewarding than knowing that your gift—whatever the size—is helping students get an education that will change their lives, and that may well change the country and the world for the better. Why deny yourself that pleasure? I hope more graduates from schools around the country will prioritize financial aid when they give. We all have a responsibility to help the schools that helped us. For me, that started with a $5 gift the year I graduated. And I've been lucky to be able to give a lot more since.