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Trustee gives $50M gift to financial aid

Duke received $50 million for financial aid Monday—the largest gift in the University’s history from individual donors.

Bruce Karsh, Trinity ’77, and his wife Martha Karsh donated $50 million to the permanent endowment in an effort to support undergraduate need-based aid. Of the total donation, $30 million is designated for domestic students and $20 million for international students. Martha Karsh noted that the donation is meant to reflect the University’s, her husband’s and her own priority of making Duke more accessible to all students, regardless of financial status or place of origin.

“It’s something we were so happy to be able to do,” Karsh said. “There are bright and brilliant students around the world who don’t have access to Duke. There is not as much money available for them as of now, but there’s still a need.”

Of the domestic funds, $15 million will go toward expanding the existing Karsh Scholarship Fund for financial aid. Five million will be dedicated to assisting graduates of the Knowledge Is Power Program who are accepted to Duke. The organization is a national network of schools preparing children from underserved areas for college.

“It’s programs like these and Duke’s willingness to help students that face extenuating circumstances growing up that help make a culture of openness, generosity and commitment to education for all,” Karsh said. “It’s the first of its kind.”

The remaining $10 million set aside for U.S. students will be used to create a dollar-for-dollar challenge, which serves to prompt other donors to establish their own undergraduate scholarships.

The $20 million for international students will help strengthen the existing Karsh International Scholars Program that began this year.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to help us bring some of the best and brightest from around the world to Duke, regardless of financial need,” said Ana Barros, faculty adviser for the program and professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The Karshes have previously given $35 million for financial aid, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations. He added that the University appreciates such generous donations, particularly because international students are not eligible for federal aid.

Schoenfeld noted that the funds for both domestic and international students will be entirely need-based, adding that unlike many merit scholarships, the donors will not have a say in who receives aid. The Office of Financial Aid will be in charge of determining need and distributing aid accordingly.

“Our only goal is to bring qualified students to Duke from around the world and within our states,” Karsh said. “We want students with the skills, motivation and ambition to succeed.”

Schoenfeld added that proportionally, international students tend to be more affluent than domestic students due to the fact that Duke offers limited financial aid for international students.

“It is impossible to be need-blind with international students because they need to be able to afford Duke tuition to attend,” he said. “This gift, however, can go some ways to closing that gap.”

The Karsh International Scholars program launched this year through previous donations from the Karshes. It is being used to support nine students from Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Spain, Ukraine, Ecuador, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

“These students impressed me when I met them for lunch, and they are the perfect example of why international aid is necessary,” Karsh said. “All universities should be trying to make citizens of the world.”

Schoenfeld noted that Duke spends approximately $120 million on financial aid for domestic students annually. He added that the Karshes’ dedication to assisting international students is in line with the University’s commitment to keeping its doors open to all students.

Karsh said that the gift will pay itself off in the future, creating a ripple effect.

“These students that use this money to come here will not only grow up to be the amazing graduates Duke has been known to produce, but they will also go back to their own countries—given the difficulty of staying here after 9/11—and act as ambassadors for the U.S.,” she said. “Not in a capital way, but a small way. They cannot spend four years here and not return to their homes and share the goodwill with others.

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