- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The mystery college donor has struck again _ this time at Binghamton University in New York, whose financial aid office phone started ringing off the hook as word of an anonymous $6 million contribution spread across campus.

Binghamton is the latest of at least a dozen universities to receive donations totaling more than $60 million in recent weeks. The gifts have arrived with the same, highly unusual stipulation: not only must the donor must remain anonymous, but not even the college can know who it is or try to find out.

The recipient colleges seem to have almost nothing in common except this: so far, all are led by women.

Binghamton announced the gift Monday, though it said the check came to its foundation office several weeks ago.

“They said, ‘we think you better come and look at this. We can’t tell if we’re counting the zeros right,” said president Lois DeFleur. The university was instructed to use $4 million on financial aid and $2 million for areas of general need. It will decide how much to spend immediately and how much to put into endowed funds in the coming weeks.

Gifts arriving in a similar, secretive fashion _ ranging from $1 million to $8 million _ have materialized at a diverse list of colleges ranging from smaller liberal arts schools like the University of North Carolina at Asheville to mid-sized institutions like Montclair State in New Jersey to giant universities like Purdue in Indiana.

All have been public institutions except Kalamazoo College in Michigan, which received $1 million with a note similar to the others: “It is hoped that this gift will make a substantial difference to your students during these challenging times enabling a more confident, sharper focus on their studies with improved career and life prospects.”

It’s unclear whether the donations are coming from a single individual, but seem clearly related. On Internet discussion boards, speculation on the source has ranged from a humble philanthropist so selfless as to not even claim a tax deduction, to disgraced financier Bernie Madoff or a soon-to-be-divorced businessman trying to unload hidden assets.

At least one school checked with the IRS and Department of Homeland Security to make sure it was OK to accept.

Binghamton’s experience was similar to the others: a bank executive telephoned and said to expect a cashier’s check with a letter explaining how it should be spent.

DeFleur said the gift was especially appreciated considering how many students are struggling to pay bills with one or both parents out of work. More than half of Binghamton’s students get some form of financial aid, and calls quickly started pouring in from students.

In-state tuition, fees, and room and board total $17,380 a year, according to the admissions page of the university’s Web site. Binghamton enrolls 11,515 undergraduates.

“They wanted to sign up,” DeFleur said. “We said, ‘we’ll have the guidelines out of soon.’ That’s just an indicator that there is really need. So many students, they want to go to school and they want to go now more than ever, and these are some of the most difficult times.”


On the Net:

Binghamton University: https://www.binghamton.edu

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