PHILANTHROPY

Hedge fund chief Kenneth Griffin donates US$150m to Harvard

Billionaire Kenneth Griffin graduated from the university 25 years ago

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 9:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 4:00am
 

Billionaire US investor Kenneth Griffin, who started his hedge fund in his dormitory room at Harvard University, is donating US$150 million to his alma mater in what will be the largest single gift ever made to the Ivy League school.

Griffin, who graduated from Harvard 25 years ago, said the gift would mainly support the university's financial aid programme, benefiting as many as 800 undergraduate students every year.

The donation should be "an investment in the next generation of leaders as we continue to break down barriers to an outstanding education", Griffin said in a statement.

After beginning to bet on convertible bonds while living at Cabot House, Griffin went on to found Chicago-based Citadel, one of the world's biggest and most successful hedge funds. Last year, Griffin's net worth was estimated at US$4.4 billion, according to Forbes.

For Harvard, already the richest university in the world with a US$32.7 billion endowment, the donation comes at a time when ever more students are relying on aid to help pay the way.

The high cost of a college education in the United States has saddled many young people with thousands of dollars in debt and sparked criticism that only the wealthy can afford a top-notch education.

The cost of one year at Harvard could be as much as US$65,150, and currently 60 per cent of undergraduates received financial aid, the school said in the statement. The university allows qualified students whose families earn less than US$65,000 a year to attend for free.

"Ken Griffin's extraordinary philanthropy is opening Harvard's gates wider to the most talented students in the world, no matter their economic circumstances," Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said.

Until now, Griffin has been known more as a benefactor of the arts, having given US$19 million to help build the Modern Wing at the Chicago Art Institute, where he and his wife had their first date.

During his career, the normally media-shy Griffin has often ranked among the hedge fund industry's best-paid managers.

He was one of five billionaire managers asked to testify before Congress about the industry in 2008.

The money will establish 200 Griffin scholars and provide matching funds for a new programme designed to create 600 more scholarships.

In September, Harvard launched a campaign to raise US$6.5 billion in donations with Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, who dropped out of Harvard but now ranks as the world's second-richest person, joining in a kick-off event.

Harvard counts former presidents John Adams and John F Kennedy and other hedge fund managers among its alumni.


Bit by bit

In what may be the first college donation of the electronic currency, a bitcoin entrepreneur has made a US$10,000 virtual donation to a Washington state liberal arts college.

The University of Puget Sound said on Wednesday it had received 14.5 coins of the digital currency, which it has converted into traditional dollars.

Nicolas Cary, 27, graduated from the university in 2007 and now runs Blockchain, which supports the online currency market. He said he wanted to make the gift in the money that was central to his career.

He believed it was the first bitcoin gift to a United States college or university.

Bitcoin is an open-source currency affiliated with no country or bank. Peer-to-peer trading began in 2009. AP

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