COLLEGE PARK, Md. — To help double need-based scholarships, the University of Maryland is getting a $219.5 million gift from the foundation of a billionaire alumnus whose own education was made possible by a scholarship.
The university announced the gift from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation on Wednesday. Clark, who hitchhiked from home because he couldn’t afford room and board, went on to become a leader of one of the nation’s largest private construction companies.
It will be the sixth-largest private gift to a public university in the nation, according to rankings of major private gifts to higher education by the Chronicle for Higher Education, which has ranked gifts that have been made over the past 50 years. It is also the largest gift ever made to the University of Maryland.
Wallace Loh, the university’s president, said the gift will significantly increase access to education for bright students with modest means at a time when students struggle to pay tuition, and large debts after graduation have become a major national issue.
“It will transform access and affordability to an education in the state’s flagship university,” Loh said, shortly before confetti dropped at a festive announcement in College Park.
Courtney Clark Pastrick, Clark’s daughter who chairs the foundation’s board, said the overall goal is to double the amount of students receiving financial aid.
“It’s all about access and affordability,” Pastrick said. “It is all need based, and that’s really the underlying mission of this gift: to provide access and opportunity for students that otherwise wouldn’t be able to go.”
There will be several different scholarships. One initiative would seek matching money from other donors to generate a $100 million fund to help hundreds of students in all majors each year, if fully matched.
Another program will provide scholarships to 40 high-performing engineering undergraduates, and an endowment of a pilot program will provide need-based scholarships to 40 engineering majors who come from the state’s community colleges.
About a dozen faculty chairs also will be created, including eight for engineering researchers that address areas such as additive and advanced manufacturing, autonomy and robotics and energy and sustainability. There also will be an endowment for five faculty chairs in fields such as data analytics, neuroscience, virtual and augmented reality and cybersecurity.
The money also will be used to build a new engineering building to facilitate collaborations between disciplines with institutional and business partners.
“It’s all about innovation, economic development, job creation — moving the economy of Maryland forward,” Loh said.
The university’s engineering school is named after Clark, who graduated in 1950 and died in 2015.
Clark was known as the “King of Concrete.” His company, Clark Enterprises, built sports stadiums and convention centers across the country. The company also built Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and several high-profile buildings in the nation’s capital, including FedEx Field, Nationals Park, Verizon Center and more than 20 Metro stations.