Winfrey, the media mogul and philanthropist, made the surprise announcement after meeting 47 Oprah Winfrey Scholars, whom she called “sons,” according to a news release from the college. The college presented Winfrey with a painting of her likeness.
Oprah Winfrey, dressed in red, stands below a painting of her likeness at Morehouse College. Winfrey visited the Atlanta college Monday and announced she is donated $13 million toward a scholarship program she created 30 years ago. PHOTO CREDIT: MOREHOUSE COLLEGE.
Winfrey's gift comes less than two weeks after the college announced several budget cuts to help with the school's cash flow problems. For the next nine months most professional staff and faculty will receive a monthly furlough day and the school will cease matching contributions to retirement funds for all employees.
Historically black colleges such as Morehouse traditionally have more difficulty getting major contributions from donors. Students at those schools typically come from families with lower household incomes and graduate with greater student loan debt. At Morehouse, a private liberal arts college with about 2,200 students, the average student loan debt for graduates is between $35,000 to $40,000, which is more than the national average of about $29,000.
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In May, billionaire technology investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith surprised Morehouse administrators and students in his commencement speech when he announced plans to repay the student loan debt for each graduating senior. The college announced last month that the gift, $34 million, will be directly paid by the college to student loan companies.
Winfrey was in Atlanta on Saturday for the grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios.
Morehouse College president David A. Thomas talks during the 134th commencement exercises at the college in Atlanta on Sunday, May 20, 2018. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
“I’m grateful to Oprah Winfrey for her generosity,” said the college’s president, David A. Thomas, in a statement. “I am also feeling hopeful for Morehouse and what it has garnered in terms of philanthropic support with gifts like Oprah’s and Robert Smith’s. I am hopeful that this will also get others to step up with their support of Morehouse, but even more broadly, historically black colleges and universities.”
Staff writer Shelia M. Poole contributed to this report.