Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Be your own Bloomberg: Start small -- Nov. 22, 2018 column


The year after he graduated, Michael Bloomberg donated the princely sum of $5 to Johns Hopkins University. It was all he could afford.

Donating became a habit. Over the years, the 1964 graduate contributed $1.5 billion to the school for research, teaching and financial aid.

That was the warmup for his latest eye-popping gift.

Bloomberg, billionaire business tycoon and philanthropist, former mayor of New York and possible 2020 presidential candidate, just gave his alma mater an additional $1.8 billion – with a B – solely for student financial aid. It’s believed to be the largest donation to an educational institution in American history.


“No qualified high school student should ever be barred entrance to a college based on his or her family’s bank account. Yet it happens all the time,” Bloomberg wrote in an op-ed Nov. 18 in The New York Times.

“Denying students entry to college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity. It perpetuates poverty. And it strikes at the heart of the American dream: the idea that every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit,” he wrote.

Most elite schools consider a student’s ability to pay during the admissions process and turn away qualified students from low- and middle-income families.

Bloomberg’s gift will ensure a “need-blind” admissions policy at Hopkins, where tuition and fees for undergraduates tops $53,000 a year. Students will receive scholarships instead of taking out student loans. The idea is to create a student body that is socioeconomically diverse.  

Bloomberg, founder of the financial data services firm Bloomberg L.P., credits his success to his undergraduate education. His father was a bookkeeper who never made more than $6,000 a year, but the son was able to go to Hopkins with the help of a National Defense Student loan and a job on campus.

“My Hopkins diploma opened doors that otherwise would have been closed and allowed me to live the American dream,” he wrote. He earned an MBA from Harvard in 1966.

Now a registered Democrat, Bloomberg, 76, served three terms as mayor of New York as a Republican and independent. After considering a presidential bid in 2016, he gave millions to help Democratic House candidates in the midterms and is weighing a presidential bid in 2020.

As massive as Bloomberg’s gift is, though, it will help lucky students at only one university. To change the shape of American higher education generally will take changes on the state and federal level, so don’t hold your breath.

But the rest of us can step up on Giving Tuesday. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving has become an antidote to the spending excesses of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

Now in its seventh year, it’s the day people around the world contribute to worthy causes. Last year, more than $274 million was raised from more than 2.5 million contributions, an increase of $97 million or 55 percent overall, from 2016.

Giving Tuesday isn’t political and doesn’t accept or distribute contributions. People donate on their favorite charity’s website or through a social media platform and publicize their choice with the hashtag #givingtuesday.

It was founded by the 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community center in New York, in partnership with the United National Foundation. Founder Henry Timms, president and CEO of the Y, is co-author of the best-selling book, “New Power,” and the son of one of my closest friends.

Bloomberg has done his part to help his college, and he hopes others will help theirs – “whether the check is for $5, $50, $50,000 or more,” he wrote.
Giving Tuesday invites us to reflect on what’s important to us. Maybe your cause is health, poverty, social justice, the arts, or the victims who’ve lost everything in the wildfires in California. Maybe you’d rather give your support to local groups.

Give carefully. When you send money, be aware of scammers. You can research organizations at CharityNavigator.org, GuideStar.org and CharityWatch.org to make sure your money is put to good use.

We can’t all give like Bloomberg, but we all can do something to make the country better – and make ourselves feel better. Happy Giving Tuesday.

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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