DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A tiny liberal arts school in rural Kentucky that hosted vice presidential debates in 2000 and 2012 announced a $250 million donation Tuesday, one of the largest single gifts in higher education history.
The all-stock donation to Centre College from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust ranks among the 20 biggest gifts ever to a U.S. college or university, according to a list maintained by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is the second-largest such gift to a U.S. school since 2011, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, surpassed only by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's $350 million donation to Johns Hopkins University announced earlier this year.
Centre said Tuesday it will use the money to set up scholarships for students majoring in natural sciences, economics and computational sciences.
The school, which has produced two U.S. vice presidents and a pair of U.S. Supreme Court justices, will award the scholarships to students who "have a very good chance of making a mark on the world," said Richard Trollinger, a campus vice president.
Centre President John A. Roush said the gift, which comes in the form of stock in Universal Computer Systems Holding Inc., represents a "fundamental transformation" in the school's ability to support students demonstrating leadership potential.
"The challenges and opportunities confronting our nation and world are increasingly complex, and the Brockman Scholars Program will empower talented young women and men with the knowledge, creativity and integrity necessary to address them," he said
Starting in fall 2014, 40 new Brockman Scholarships will be funded each year for students majoring in the natural and computational sciences and economics, with a total of 160 students receiving the full-ride scholarships plus more benefits by 2017, the school said.
The merit-based scholarships will cover tuition, room and board, and fees — which will cost about $45,100 for the coming school year — as well as money to support study abroad, summer research and internships. The academic majors available to Brockman Scholars will include behavioral neuroscience, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, physics and psychology.
Brockman formed the charitable trust in 1981, a few years before his death. His son, Robert T. "Bob" Brockman, attended Centre for a couple of years before getting his degree elsewhere and is a former chairman of the school's board of trustees. Bob Brockman, who lives in Houston, left the Kentucky school because he wanted a degree in business administration, which isn't offered as a major at Centre, Trollinger said.
Bob Brockman is also president and CEO of The Reynolds and Reynolds Co., an auto dealer services firm that merged with Universal Computer Systems in 2006.
The elder Brockman "saw firsthand the tremendous impact that Centre had on his son ... whose own drive and ambition were empowered by his experience as a Centre student," Evatt Tamine, trustee of the Brockman Trust, said in a statement.
Neither Bob Brockman nor Tamine attended the campus announcement, which created a stir during the quiet summer period.
The discussions between campus leaders and the trust that led to the eye-popping gift started this past July 1 — which happened to be Roush's 63rd birthday — and progressed quickly.
"We are being invited into this partnership in ways that will make a difference in the life of this college and ... the commonwealth of Kentucky in exciting and important ways, and over time our nation and world," Roush said Tuesday. "We try to prepare our students to dream big and think big, and that's not going to stop."
The leafy campus in Danville, a picturesque central Kentucky town of about 16,000, has found itself on the nation's political center stage twice, when it hosted vice presidential debates in 2000 pitting Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman and again in 2012 when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squared off.
Centre expects enrollment of about 1,375 students for the fall semester. The school is planning modest enrollment growth to about 1,425 within a couple of years, Roush said. The school ranked 52nd nationally among liberal arts colleges in last year's ratings from U.S. News & World Report, but it ranked fifth in best undergraduate teaching and alumni giving.
A prior $19.5 million gift from the Brockman Trust went for construction of a dorm for upperclassmen that opened a year ago at Centre.
The latest gift comes amid the school's $500 million fundraising campaign leading up to Centre's bicentennial celebration in January 2019.
Trollinger said the massive gift might discourage some from giving to Centre — those who were "looking for an excuse not to give." But such sizeable gifts "tend to inspire more giving than they discourage. And that's certainly what we're banking on going into this campaign."