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Kluge Pledges $400 Million To Columbia for Student Aid

John W. Kluge has pledged $400 million from his estate to Columbia University, the largest donation in the school's history. The former Metromedia Inc. chairman has also given to U-Va.
John W. Kluge has pledged $400 million from his estate to Columbia University, the largest donation in the school's history. The former Metromedia Inc. chairman has also given to U-Va. (By Daniel Barry -- Bloomberg News)

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

John W. Kluge, who launched his media empire with an investment in a Washington-area radio station, has pledged $400 million from his estate to Columbia University.

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The promised gift, one of the largest ever from an individual to a university, will be used exclusively for student financial aid.

Kluge, 92, an immigrant from Germany who graduated from Columbia 70 years ago, served in the military and went into business in the 1940s. He was president and chairman of Metromedia Inc., overseeing a collection of television stations and various businesses including the Harlem Globetrotters. He lived large: In the 1980s, Washington Post articles described his property near Charlottesville, with a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer, a disco and pheasant hunting.

And he donated, giving money to places such as the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress. He had given more than $110 million to Columbia. He turned over his 7,000-acre Charlottesville estate to the University of Virginia.

His gift is the largest for student aid at an institution, said John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

As college tuition continues to outpace the rising cost of living, some schools have put increasing emphasis on finding ways to make education more affordable. Last year, Columbia announced that students from families earning less than $50,000 a year would get grants, not loans, to cover costs; several other schools have begun similar programs.

At a ceremony yesterday in New York to announce the gift, Kluge said that he wanted to ensure that Columbia remained a place for the best and the brightest -- and that, because its endowment was not nearly as large as many peer institutions, the university would require that support.

Philanthropy to higher education has been doubling every decade, Lippincott said. "We're now at about $28 billion a year."

-- Susan Kinzie


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