The world’s richest man has committed $1 billion toward putting a college and graduate school education within the reach of more minority students.
Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates announced last week that the foundation he established with his wife, Melinda, would allocate that amount to scholarships for some 20,000 minority youths over the next two decades.
Aimed at serving “high-achieving minority students who are in severe financial need,” the initiative represents the couple’s largest single philanthropic venture to date.
“The greatest thing you can do is provide somebody with a wonderful education,” Mr. Gates said at a press conference in Seattle. “And you’d like to do that in a way that they can really focus on their studies, that they don’t have to be having too many jobs off on the side, or think about the size of the loans they’re building up.”
The new Gates Millennium Scholars program will distribute its first round of 1,000 scholarships to college sophomores, juniors, and seniors next fall. Starting the following year, new awards will be made only to graduating high school seniors who have at least a 3.3 grade point average and who have shown a commitment to community service.
The grants are meant to pay for tuition, supplies, and living expenses not already covered by other financial aid or by students’ families.
Each scholarship winner will receive support throughout college as long as he or she maintains a 3.0 GPA. The aid will continue after the recipients earn bachelor’s degrees for those who pursue graduate work in education, engineering, science, mathematics, or library science.
By relieving their financial burden, students will have greater freedom in choosing a career, William H. Gray, the president of the United Negro College Fund, said at the press conference. While a student might otherwise think, “ ‘I’d like to be a teacher, but gee, I can’t afford it because I’ve got $40,000 worth of loans,’ ” he said, “that person who wants to be a teacher, who wants to dedicate themselves won’t have to worry.”
The UNCF will administer the scholarship fund for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and the American Indian College Fund.
The Gateses’ foundation was formed three weeks ago through the merger of the Gates Learning Foundation and the William H. Gates Foundation. With more than $17 billion in assets, the new entity ranks as the nation’s richest philanthropy.