Billionaire media entrepreneur John Werner Kluge is giving $400 million to Columbia University for financial aid, one of the largest gifts ever to an American university, the university announced Wednesday.
Kluge attended Columbia on scholarship and credits the opportunity with helping him become a successful broadcast entrepreneur.
While most large donations are made toward the construction of a new building or to endow a professorship, Kluge wanted his to go for financial aid to students. It is the largest in Columbia’s history and will come from his estate when he dies.
“John’s extraordinary gift, coupled with his earlier gifts, will help generations of Columbians,” university President Lee C. Bollinger said at a ceremony attended by Kluge, 92, a longtime supporter of the Ivy League institution.
“He has chosen to direct his amazing generosity to ensuring that young people will have the chance to benefit from a Columbia education regardless of their wealth or family income,” Bollinger said.
Kluge (pronounced KLOOG-ee) bought a single radio station in 1946 and built it into Metromedia Broadcasting. In 1983, Kluge took Metromedia private in a leveraged buyout, and he then sold off the broadcast properties piecemeal for $4.65 billion.
He also acquired entertainment properties ranging from the Ice Capades to the Harlem Globetrotters to Playbill magazine.
Forbes magazine ranked him the wealthiest man in America in 1989-91. Last year, he was still listed as the 25th richest American with an estimated net worth of $9.1 billion.
Kluge has already given $100 million to Columbia for the Kluge Scholars Program, which has supported 500 undergraduate students.
He explained his efforts in 2004 by saying: “I’d rather by far invest in people than buildings. If I can infuse a mind to improve itself, that’ll pass on to their children, and to their children’s children.”
Columbia, citing the Chronicle of Higher Education, said Kluge’s gift is the largest ever devoted exclusively to student aid and the fourth largest ever to any single institution of higher education in the United States.
The announcement of the gift comes as Columbia pushes ahead with a campaign to raise $4 billion, specifically for financial aid and endowed faculty at its schools. With Kluge’s commitment, the university has raised $2.2 billion.
As of last year, the Ivy League school had an endowment of more than $5 billion, larger than most universities but smaller than other Ivy League schools.