Pictured R to L: Dr Michael, R. Cunningham, Chancellor, National University System; T. Denny Sanford, Philanthropist and Entrepreneur; and Dr. David Andrews, President, National University. Credit: National University

Pictured R to L: Dr Michael, R. Cunningham, Chancellor, National University System; T. Denny Sanford, Philanthropist and Entrepreneur; and Dr. David Andrews, President, National University. Credit: National University

He’s at it again: T. Denny Sanford, the billionaire credit and banking mogul who wants to die broke, announced a new $350 million gift today. This one is going to National University in San Diego, bringing his donations to that institution to a total of $500 million.

In recognition of his generosity, the university is renaming itself Sanford National University, effective June 2020.

“I am on Cloud Nine to have my name on this university,” Sanford said in an interview with Inside Philanthropy. “They are expanding my legacy. They already have exceeded my expectations.”

Sanford is referring to his previous experience as a donor to National University. It has been the recipient of large Sanford gifts in three areas: the Sanford Harmony program, which teaches children collaboration and communication skills as well as tolerance for differences; Sanford Inspire, which seeks to improve teaching; and the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, which teaches fundraising and other essential skills to nonprofit leaders.

A Campus Donor Who’s All In

“This organization gets things done,” said Sanford, whose net worth is $2.4 billion, according to the latest assessment by Forbes. And, he added with a laugh, “they are good pickpockets.”

The mogul’s new $350 million commitment, to be paid over several years, will be used to achieve a new goal: reducing the cost of tuition for working adults in post-secondary education. With college debt skyrocketing, the university wants to cut its $15,000 per year tuition in half, reducing it to $7,500 and maybe even lower.

Unlike many colleges and universities, National University has a high percentage of adult learners, with an average age of 33. Many are in helping professions such as teaching or nursing and need a graduate or other degree to advance their careers. But the high cost of tuition makes it difficult for them to get that education.

“If you look at teachers today, many come out of fine schools with $80,000 in debt,” explains David Andrews, the university’s president. “To advance their salaries, they need to get a master’s degree. If we can enable teachers to get the education they need, they can get better pay.”

Paths to Access

National University’s bid, with Sanford’s backing, to expand access by cutting tuition stands in contrast to the approach to this challenge taken by other universities—which instead have mostly focused on providing more generous financial aid even they allow tuition costs to climb ever upward. As Inside Philanthropy has reported, many campus donors have been more than willing to go along with that approach, giving big for scholarship programs as schools across the U.S., yet rarely speaking out against rising tuition.

Still, National University isn’t alone in believing that lower tuition is the real key to greater access to higher education and worked with donors to make tuition cuts possible. In August, IP reported on how St. John’s College is lowering its tuition from $52,000 to $35,000, thanks to the success of its “Freeing Minds” fundraising campaign which has raised over $200 million.

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