- The University of Chicago is establishing the nation's first molecular engineering school with a $75 million gift from the Pritzker Foundation, the college announced Tuesday. The foundation has committed a total of $100 million to the project.
- The Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering will be the university's first new school in three decades. It also will be one of the few schools across the globe dedicated to the interdisciplinary field, which has applications in biomedicine, energy and computing.
- The university joins several other institutions to receive major gifts in recent years to fund the creation of programs and schools in emerging fields.
So far, the school has about 30 faculty members, a figure officials hope to double in the next decade, The Wall Street Journal reported. Last year, the university graduated its first undergraduate class in molecular engineering.
Other colleges and universities to use big gifts to enter new territory or expand popular programs include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Late last year, it announced plans to add a $1 billion computing college with the support of a $350 million donation from Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman.
Likewise, the University of Virginia is launching an interdisciplinary school in data science with the help of a $120 million donation, the largest private gift in its history.
Charitable giving to higher education is on the rise, with colleges and universities receiving a record-breaking $46.7 billion during the 2017-18 academic year, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Harvard University nabbed the largest amount, at $1.4 billion, while Stanford and Columbia universities followed, raising $1.1 billion and $1 billion, respectively, Bloomberg reported. Gifts of $100 million or more have also become more common.
Yet there are disparities in which institutions receive donations. More than one-fourth (28%) of donations in 2017-18 went to just 20 colleges, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted. And while alumni contributions have been increasing, the number of donating alumni is on the decline, according to Hanover Research.
Moody's Investors Service predicts giving to higher ed will slow in 2019. That could cause some private colleges aiming to switch to a more philanthropy-centered model to struggle, analysts wrote.
Even so, some small colleges have been turning toward giving amid nationwide enrollment declines. Last year, Goucher College kicked off a $100 million capital campaign. And St. John's College is balancing a significant tuition reset with a $300 million campaign to increase its endowment.