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June 10, 2015

What Could $400 Million Harvard Gift Accomplish Elsewhere?

In the wake of John Paulson's $400 million donation last week to endow Harvard University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the impact such a gift could have at other institutions.

The hedge-fund mogul has drawn criticism for giving so much to his alma mater, the nation's wealthiest university, with a $36 billion endowment, arguing that his largesse could have made a bigger difference elsewhere.

Among other things, $400 million would cover the full cost of educating students for more than a decade at Berea College in Kentucky, which charges no tuition; complete current fundraising campaigns at 20 colleges; or build the six most expensive of 14 new buildings planned for the Texas A&M system.

Noah D. Drezner, an associate professor of higher education at Columbia University who specializes in fundraising, said donors have complicated, personal reasons for choosing a beneficiary. "You have to think of the purpose behind the gift," he said. "Based on what the donor wanted to do, was this the right place?"