The eight-figure gift to Howard will allow the historically black university to graduate students on time, complete infrastructure projects, retain faculty and develop programs for innovation and entrepreneurship, said Wayne A.I. Frederick, the university’s president.
“We have a large number of low-income students,” Frederick said in an interview. “We’re going to invest in students’ mental health, as well as their ability to afford the education.”
The gift will support Howard’s Graduation & Retention Access to Continued Excellence — or GRACE — grant, a need-based program that matches Pell Grant awards for students who receive the maximum amount of aid allowed through the federal program. The GRACE grant also provides additional financial support to students whose families cannot contribute to their college expenses.
Frederick called the GRACE grant “one of the most transformative things we’ve done,” and added that students in the program graduate at a rate 33 percentage points higher than those in similar financial situations who do not receive the grant. Students tend to perform better academically when they can focus on school and worry less about finances, Frederick said.
The $40 million Scott gift will also help establish a “social innovation hub” that will connect technology experts and data scientists on campus with students and faculty in the humanities to examine social issues — including income inequality, health-care disparities and criminal justice reform, Frederick said. The donation will kick-start a fund for faculty compensation and retention efforts.
Howard, like other universities throughout the country, took a financial hit this year after the novel coronavirus pandemic upended the past school year. But Frederick said the Scott gift will be used to further existing initiatives and grow the school’s endowment.
The university plans to introduce a separate grant for students who need financial assistance upon returning to campus.
“We definitely want to help and assist families, recognizing that they are probably going to struggle to make ends meet,” Frederick said.
Scott said that she has made donations to other historically black institutions, including Spelman and Morehouse colleges, Xavier University of Louisiana, and Hampton and Tuskegee universities.
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Thurgood Marshall College Fund and College Track — all organizations that support black, first-generation and other marginalized students pursuing college degrees — are also on Scott’s list of charities.
This summer has seen weeks of unrest around systemic racism, and pushed issues that disproportionately affect black people — such as education inequity — to the national forefront. Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, and his wife, Patty Quillin, committed $120 million to Spelman, Morehouse and the United Negro College Fund in June.
The “Black Lives Matter” mantra that has been recited at protests since at least 2014 now is resonating with philanthropists, Michael L. Lomax, president and chief executive of the UNCF, said after the Hastings and Quillin donations.
“The donor community is revaluing philanthropy to the black community because it is revaluing the back community, revaluing the people and the lives,” he said.
Frederick said Scott’s gift will be transformational for the campus.
“Ms. Scott has demonstrated leadership and hopefully set an example for others to follow,” he said.