$15 million gift to Clark Atlanta University largest in its history

Donation by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott follows similar gifts to other Atlanta Black colleges
Clark Atlanta University

Clark Atlanta University

Clark Atlanta University, Georgia’s largest, private historically Black university, announced Tuesday it has received its single largest gift in its history, $15 million that will be used for student scholarships, infrastructure and technological improvements.

The gift came from MacKenzie Scott, a novelist, philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos. In July, Scott pledged $20 million each to Morehouse and Spelman colleges, also historically Black schools located adjacent to Clark Atlanta.

“It feels good when a MacKenzie Scott can recognize our value and what we mean to the current and future state of higher education,” an excited George T. French Jr., Clark Atlanta’s president, said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.

George T. French Jr., president of Clark Atlanta University. PHOTO CREDIT: CLARK ATLANTA UNIVERSITY

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French said he began discussing a gift with Scott’s team in February. Scott wanted to know how a donation could impact the university.

French said the money will be used to renovate some residence halls and other buildings, recruit faculty, improve technology in its business school and to create a social justice initiative named after writer and activist W.E.B. DuBois, who taught at what was then Atlanta University more than a century ago. French said the donation will help the university’s $100 million capital fundraising campaign.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have traditionally received less money from major donors, but several of the nation’s largest companies and philanthropists have made significant contributions to the schools in recent months in response to social justice protests and complaints about systemic racism.

Clark Atlanta has about 3,900 students, but many come from low-income households and take out student loans. Federal statistics show nearly 90% of its students receive federal loans. Clark Atlanta graduates often have among the highest amounts of student loan debt in the state, some research shows. The median federal debt for its graduates is about $30,000, which does not include federal Parent PLUS loans and private loans.

Clark Atlanta’s tuition, housing and fees last school year were about $35,000, slightly less than the national average of about $38,000 for a private, four-year university.

The gift to Clark Atlanta is part of $4 billion in donations Scott is giving to colleges, charities and other organizations across the country, including several Goodwill, Easterseals, YMCA and Meals on Wheels locations in Georgia.