Nike’s Phil Knight Donates $400M To Stanford For Scholars Program

Nike co-founder Phil Knight donated $400 million to Stanford this week in an effort to boost the prestigious school’s scholarship program for high-achieving students from a wide range of backgrounds, including students whose modest means might otherwise prevent them from attending the west coast school, reports NBC News.

Stanford has a total endowment of $22 billion, causing some to speculate that the donation is unnecessary, an example of wealthy largesse rather than a truly philanthropic exercise. According to Gawker, last year, Stanford received more donations than any other college in the U.S.

Phil Knight disagrees. In a statement accompanying the massive donation to Stanford, the Nike co-founder discussed the motivations behind giving such a large sum of money to an already wealthy school. The Stanford Scholars program previously held an already large endowment of $350 million prior to the injection of Knight’s $400 million.

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“John [Hennessey] and I dream of a future twenty, thirty, or fifty years from now when thousands of graduates – who can think outside the box as skilled problem solvers – will be working together for a more peaceful, habitable world,” said Phil Knight.

The Hennessey-Knight Scholars program will accept 100 students a year, providing them a full ride to pursue otherwise highly expensive graduate, masters, and doctorate degrees at the prestigious (and very expensive) Stanford.

Phil Knight’s gift to Stanford matches the largest ever donation to a United States university, which was made by hedge fund manager John Paulson, who donated $400 million to Harvard just last year. However, Knight’s donation to Stanford makes the Hennessey-Knight Scholars program the largest funded scholarship program in the world, larger even than the world-renowned Rhodes Scholar program at Oxford University in the UK.

“We wanted to create something enduring, that would be unlike anything else currently available to the world’s brightest minds – that would make the biggest impact possible toward solving global challenges affecting the environment, health, education, and human rights,” said former Stanford President John Hennessey, who approached Phil Knight about the idea sometime last year.

The Stanford scholars program will directly fund students partaking of the Hennessey-Knight scholarship, and only about 20 percent of the total funds will go toward administrative costs. The rest, Stanford says, is all for the students and their education.

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“We will bring together outstanding, courageous scholars to benefit from Stanford’s innovative educational environment, who then go on to lead governments, businesses, nonprofits, and other complex organizations and develop creative solutions to effect positive change,” said John Hennessey, gushing over the potential effect of his new scholarship program.

Hamilton Nolan of Gawker is skeptical. In an article published today, the writer goes on to point out that the scholarship – and the way it targets high-achieving students – doesn’t promote innovation or provide opportunities where none previously existed, but rather that the Hennessey-Knight scholars program promotes Stanford above all else. The scholarship program redirects talented students to Stanford, and these high-achieving students would likely have still found a scholarship elsewhere. With this massive influx of cash at Stanford, chances are they’ll have a better chance of picking up a full-ride at one of the west coast’s most prestigious universities.

Phil Knight himself claims to have a soft spot for education and a softer spot for Stanford, where he earned his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, reports Fortune. He graduated in 1962, just two years before he became co-founder of Nike — back when it was called Blue Ribbon Sports. Today, Phil Knight is worth around $25.7 billion, around the total endowment of Stanford University. Knight currently serves as the Nike chairman but is slated to step down sometime this year.

[Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]