Last July, MacKenzie Scott Gave $150 Million to HBCUs. Here’s Where That Money Has Gone.

[Editor’s Note: In January 2022, we published an analysis looking at one year after MacKenzie Scott’s December 2020 donations to 17 more HBCUs. You can read it here.]

It has officially been a year since MacKenzie Scott, author, philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, sent a shockwave through the philanthropic and education worlds by donating $1.7 billion of her vast wealth in July 2020. A portion of that money, $150 million, went to a handful of historically Black colleges and universities.

Scott, one of the richest people in the world, has pledged to give away the majority of her wealth. Last July, she donated to 116 institutions, six of which were HBCUs: Xavier University, Tuskegee University, Hampton University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and Howard University. This is how they have used the money over the past year:

Xavier University

Scott gave the private, New Orleans-based HBCU $20 million — the largest individual gift the university has ever received.

“Initially it was some disbelief,” Reynold Verret, President of Xavier University, told The Plug.

It came at a very important time for the school, which was in the midst of trying to figure out how to take care of its students during the pandemic. Half of Xavier students receive Pell Grants, the federal program that gives grants to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need.

These students were one of the biggest priorities for the donation, so three-fourths — $15 million — was put into an endowment for need-based scholarships that Verret hopes will yield around $600,000 to $700,000 a year. These funds are already being allocated to returning students and freshmen in the incoming class.

The goal with the need-based scholarships is to help retain students and increase graduation rates, Verret said. A major reason many students don’t finish at Xavier is finances.

But when students do graduate, they are more likely to reach rungs of the economic ladder that are higher than their families. Among nearly 600 selective private colleges, The New York Times has ranked Xavier as ninth in its overall mobility index, the likelihood that a student from a low-income family moved up two or more income quintiles as an adult. 

Xavier is also one of the top two universities in the country in sending Black students to medical school, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Scott’s donation has also helped fund one of Xavier’s other priorities — summer pre-college programs, with $1 million now allocated to them.

“Even though the cost of attending is modest, for some that is a barrier,” Verret said. The programs help sharpen middle and high school students’ STEM skills.

“Many students never come to our doors because they don’t know how to or why, so we need to actually do our fishing and educating earlier in the educational pipeline,” he explained.

The school has also put $2 million behind recruiting and retaining faculty and another $2 million has gone to the unrestricted general fund.

But the value of Scott’s gift has been more than monetary for Xavier — it has helped bring attention and more donors to the school.

Previously, a donor who might give $1 million to another institution similar in size to Xavier would feel that $100,000 or $250,000 to Xavier was a fair gift, Verret said.

“That notion of ‘they can do with less’ is something that I believe MacKenzie Scott’s gift and some other leaders are challenging by understanding what is the return on investment,” he added.

Tuskegee University

MacKenzie Scott donated $20 million to Tuskegee University last year, the largest single donation in the school’s history.

“This gift comes at an opportune time for us,” Lily McNair, who served as President of the school at the time, said in a statement. She added the university was launching a five-year strategic planning effort. 

At the time, Tuskegee was planning on using the funds for student scholarships, faculty and curriculum development, interdisciplinary programs and infrastructure improvements.

The school did not comment on how the money has been used over the past year.

Hampton University

The $30 million Scott gave to Hampton University last summer was also the school’s largest single gift to date.

“This pure act of benevolence is clearly a game changer,” William Harvey, President of the school, said in a statement when the donation was announced. He had sole discretion on how the funds would be used, the statement added, but plans were to allocate money to the university’s cancer institute, new scholarships and supporting upgrades to the campus’ tech and laboratories.

The school did not comment on how the money has been used over the past year.

Spelman College

Spelman College received $20 million from the billionaire philanthropist last summer.

“MacKenzie Scott’s gift to 116 organizations breaks new philanthropic ground both in scope and in scale,” Mary Schmidt Campbell, President of Spelman College, said in a statement at the time.

The school planned on putting the millions toward its five-year strategic plan as well as bolstering its tech infrastructure and improving academic facilities.

Scott’s donation came on the heels of a $40 million gift from the CEO of Netflix and his wife, the school’s largest single donation in history.

Spelman did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how Scott’s donation has been allocated this past year.

Morehouse College

Like its sister school Spelman, Morehouse College also received $20 million from Scott.

“This $20 million gift to Morehouse will help the College to build capacity and invest in strategic academic programs to enrich the experiences of the men of Morehouse,” Monique Dozier, vice president of the Office of Institutional Advancement, said in a statement at the time. She did not provide more detail into the school’s plans for the money.

Also like Spelman, Morehouse’s largest single donation came a month before Scott’s gift after the CEO of Netflix and his wife gave $40 million to the school.

Morehouse declined to give specifics on how Scott’s millions have been allocated this past year.

Howard University

Howard received Scott’s largest donation to an HBCU last summer — $40 million. It is also the largest gift from a single donor in the school’s history.

“We plan to immediately put this eight-figure gift to good use to support components of our 5-year strategic plan to help students graduate on time, retain our talented faculty, enhance our campus infrastructure and support academic innovation and entrepreneurship,” Wayne Frederick, President of Howard University, said in a statement at the time.

To help students graduate on time, Howard planned to put some of the money towards one of its signature retention programs that matches funds for Pell Grant students and provides extra support for students whose families can’t contribute any money towards their schooling, according to the statement.

Howard was also planning to implement a new faculty development plan to increase rigor and quality of instruction, to develop a program focused on social innovation and entrepreneurship, to update technology and to make essential renovations to the steam plant system.

However, the school did not comment on how the money has been used over the past year.

Mirtha Donastorg

Mirtha Donastorg is a corps member with Report for America and The Plug's HBCU Innovation Editor and Senior Reporter, exploring start-up initiatives and innovations coming from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as the way students are shaping the future of tech. She previously worked as an associate producer and a researcher for CNN.