updated 5/31/2007 2:07:51 PM ET 2007-05-31T18:07:51

A graduate of the University of Chicago gave an anonymous donation of $100 million to his alma mater, the latest in a series of massive gifts to colleges around the country.

The university will use the money — the largest single donation given to an Illinois university — to give full scholarships to about 800 lower-income students each academic year. The grants also will pay partial tuition for another 400 of the 4,400 undergraduate students

“A quarter of our students will have a very different experience than they had before,” said Michael Behnke, vice president and dean of college enrollment. “They will be free from this worry about debt. It will transform student life on campus.”

U.S. colleges and universities hauled in an all-time high of $28 billion in donations last year, led by Stanford University’s record $911 million. They have increasingly sought large gifts from individual donors rather than focusing on getting a higher percentage of alumni to give.

In April, Columbia University announced that billionaire media entrepreneur John Werner Kluge would give it $400 million for financial aid, one of the largest donations ever to an American university.

Besides the scholarships, the University of Chicago donation also will fund a summer enrichment program for about 50 lower-income students before their first year of college.

For students to qualify for the full scholarships, which will be funded for 15 years starting in fall 2008, the family income of the student must not exceed $60,000. To qualify for the partial scholarships, the family’s income must not be more than $75,000.

University officials offered few details about the donor, who graduated from the school in the early 1980s. Officials said as a student, he came from a “modest background” but didn’t require financial assistance.

“Our donor is somebody who himself felt that his life had been transformed by the nature of the education that he had,” university President Robert Zimmer said. “He wanted to make the gift to ensure that students had the opportunity independent of their financial capacity.”

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