By Michael J. de la Merced, nytimes.com
Nearly four years ago, the venture capitalist Michael Moritz donated $115 million to his alma mater, the University of Oxford, to bolster the British university’s financial assistance efforts.
Now Mr. Moritz, the chairman of Sequoia Capital, and his wife, Harriet Heyman, are providing a similar gift for an American institution.
The University of Chicago plans to announce on Wednesday that Mr. Moritz and Ms. Heyman have given $50 million to expand the school’s initiatives catering to low-income students. Those include the Odyssey Scholarship Program, for those enrolled at the university, and the Collegiate Scholars Program, which is aimed at helping high school students apply to and prepare for entering college.
The donation is the latest big-ticket donation by Silicon Valley’s top financiers to educational institutions. Last year alone, both John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Mark Stevens of Sequoia each gave $50 million to American universities: Mr. Doerr to Rice to start a leadership program and Mr. Stevens to the University of Southern California for a brain research institute.
The gift from Mr. Moritz and Ms. Heyman — she attended Chicago public schools and the University of Chicago — represents half of a new fund-raising goal by the university to bolster its aid to low-income students. It is also the latest donation by the two to American schools; the couple gave $30 million to the University of California, San Francisco, to bolster doctorate programs in the sciences.
Mr. Moritz said in a telephone interview that the University of Chicago donation reflected his longstanding interest in supporting financial assistance programs. As he and Ms. Heyman weighed options for their latest philanthropic effort, the two learned last year of the university’s Odyssey program.
“The vast majority of our giving has been aimed at trying to help talented young people eager to make their way in the world who, unless they receive financial support, are unable to do so,” he said.
Begun in 2007 with an initial $100 million gift from a donor known only as Homer, the Odyssey program frees incoming low-income scholars from loans and work-study requirements. And it is also meant to provide those students — more than 3,500 since the program’s inception — with additional resources, including access to summer internships.
The donation from Mr. Moritz and Ms. Heyman will expand Odyssey to include study abroad and other academic programs, according to John W. Boyer, dean of the university’s undergraduate college.
The gift will also increase enrollment in the University of Chicago’s Collegiate Scholars Program, in which low-income Chicago public school students take classes at the university and receive help in applying to colleges. Nearly half of the program’s 479 alumni have gone on to the University of Chicago, according to university officials, and others have attended schools like Harvard and Princeton.
“I think that part of the attraction for Michael and Harriet was very much this larger context,” Robert J. Zimmer, the university’s president, said in a telephone interview. “It recognizes that those students don’t necessarily have access to the internships and other opportunities that come with family connections. It’s setting them up for their future lives.”