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John Kluge, CC'37, Pledges $400 Million for Financial Aid

Gift is largest in Columbia's history and fourth largest single donation
to an American university; Kluge builds on longtime support for
scholarships encouraging socio-economic diversity of students

Kluge Photo
John Werner Kluge
Watch a video of the event (17:31)

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced April 11 that 92-year-old alumnus John W. Kluge has made a $400 million pledge to the University, all designated for financial aid to undergraduate and graduate students. The Kluge gift is the largest ever devoted exclusively to student aid and the fourth largest ever to any single institution of higher education in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"John's extraordinary gift, coupled with his earlier gifts, will help generations of Columbians," said President Bollinger. "The essence of America's greatness lies, in no small measure, in our collective commitment to giving all people the opportunity to improve their lives, especially through access to education. John's own life is a fulfillment of that American dream, and he has spoken frequently and eloquently of the critical role that Columbia played in his life. That he has chosen to direct his amazing generosity to ensuring that young people will have the chance to benefit from a Columbia education regardless of their wealth or family income is both a testament to his personal history and values and a challenge to all of us to do our best to live up to our nation's ideals."

The announcement was made in a special ceremony in Columbia University's Low Library, where President Bollinger and Kluge were joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Congressman Charles Rangel and former Mayor David N. Dinkins. They were also joined by Dean of Columbia College Austin Quigley, as well as one current and one former Kluge Scholar-representing approximately 500 current and former Columbia students who were able to attend the College because of Kluge's past donations to create a scholarship program for those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Kluge Photo
Left to right: Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Congressman Charles Rangel, President Lee C. Bollinger and John W. Kluge

The Kluge gift comes in the first year after Columbia announced a $4 billion fundraising campaign emphasizing the building of endowment for financial aid and faculty across its schools and campuses. The gift-which, it is important to note, will be made through Kluge's estate-will bring his total giving to Columbia to more than $500 million. Half of the $400 million will be targeted toward supporting and expanding existing financial aid programs for Columbia College, long a priority of Kluge. With his commitment, the University reaches $2.2 billion, or 55 percent of the overall goal of the Columbia Campaign launched last September.

At the outset of the fundraising campaign, President Bollinger announced that Columbia would enhance financial aid by eliminating the debt burden on students whose families earn less than $50,000 per year while attending Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science-replacing loans with grants for these undergraduates beginning in the 2007-2008 academic year. Historically, Columbia has attracted a significantly higher percentage of low-income students than many of its peer institutions. For example, the College enrolls the highest percentage of Pell grant recipients in the Ivy League. Such grants are generally available to students from families earning less that $40,000 per year. When it becomes effective, the Kluge gift will allow Columbia to further enhance scholarship and fellowship aid across the University.

"I want to help ensure that Columbia will always be a place where the best and the brightest young people can come to develop their intellect, make something of their own lives and give something back to our communities, our country and our world," Kluge said. "Yet because Columbia's endowment is not nearly as large as some of our celebrated peer institutions, achieving that goal will take support from many other Columbia alumni and friends. So I invite everyone to join me in this commitment to changing the lives of extraordinary students who will go on to be extraordinary leaders in our society. That's one way I can try to make a difference for future generations and hopefully inspire others to join me in that effort."

Kluge, who graduated from the College 70 years ago this spring, has supported numerous endeavors at Columbia through the years, donating more than $110 million to the Kluge Scholars program, the Kluge Presidential Scholars, the Kluge Faculty Endowment and other programs. In 1982, he received Columbia's John Jay Award; the University granted him an honorary doctorate degree in 1988; and in 1991, the Columbia College Alumni Association honored him with the Alexander Hamilton Medal for distinguished service and accomplishment.

"John's remarkably generous funding will enable us, over a number of years, to adjust financial aid packages so that students receive more of their aid in grants and less in loans," said Austin Quigley, dean of Columbia College. "We're beginning that process this fall for students whose families earn less than $50,000 a year. With the help of John's new gift, we will, in future years, improve the quality of aid for all recipients. Columbia has long enrolled one of the most diverse student bodies in the Ivy League. We take great pride in that tradition, we are committed to its continuation, and John's remarkable gift will ensure that it defines the character of our institution for the long term."

"New York City is a magnet for young people from across the country and the world because it's a place of important ideas and enormous opportunities," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Our renowned higher education institutions like Columbia are essential to city life and never more so now when we are in competition with other top cities around the world. Like John Kluge, I believe that investing in education produces returns that just can't be matched any other way."

"If America is to lead boldly into the future, the halls of great institutions like Columbia have to be filled with people from a diverse cross section of our society," said Congressman Charles Rangel, who this year rose to one of the most important leadership positions on Capitol Hill, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "John Kluge is making an investment not only in the lives of our youth, but also in the future success of our city and our nation by ensuring that a greater number of students can afford a first-class education here in the Big Apple."

The longtime chairman and president of Metromedia, Kluge himself rose from modest means as an immigrant from Germany. After volunteering for the U.S. Army in 1941, he eventually attained the rank of captain in military intelligence. Kluge made his start in business in 1946 with the $15,000 purchase of a single radio station. He went on to assemble the nation's largest group of independent television stations as well as entertainment properties ranging from the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters to Playbill magazine. In a career spanning six decades, the legendary business leader bought and sold a host of enterprises. Kluge has also given generously to the Library of Congress and has been active in many other charitable and civic institutions and organizations.

Kluge is married to Maria "Tussi" Kluge and is the father of three children, Samantha, Joseph and John II, a 2005 Columbia College graduate, who is working on a biography of his father.

Published: April 11, 2007
Last modified: Apr 11, 2007