St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the state’s public liberal arts school, has received a $1 million donation from philanthropists Joe and Kathy Garner for need-based aid.

A student at St. Mary's College of Maryland paddles on the St. Mary's River, our favorite stock image of Maryland’s public liberal arts school . (James A. Parcell/The Washington Post)

President Joseph Urgo said the gift signals success in the school’s campaign to stress the importance of need-based aid, rather than merit aid, among potential donors.

“Our emphasis on fundraising efforts, since my arrival, has been for need-based financial aid,” he said, in an e-mail. “The focus corresponds with our legislative mission to maintain the promise of public education, affordable to all and thriving on diversity, and high standards of academic excellence. (The quote is from the 1992 legislation establishing St Mary’s College of Maryland as the state’s honors college). I love the local grounding of this gift in that core mission.”

Donations from alumni and local philanthropists often come with strings attached. In this case, the only stipulation is a preference for graduates of St. Mary’s Ryken High School, a Catholic school. (I should hasten to add that St. Mary’s College is public, a fact not universally known even in Southern Maryland.)

Joe Garner graduated from Ryken in 1966 and from St. Mary’s College in 1974.

“We intentionally established our scholarship to provide students with a complete experience, void of the need for supplemental loans, so that their education and the experiences that support it, are their focus,” Kathy Garner said in a statement.