Philanthropist Soros pledges $500M to Bard College

In addition to the investor's gift, the New York institution receives $250 million more in its $1 billion endowment drive.
By: | April 1, 2021
Photo by Karl Rabe/Bard College

In a jaw-dropping announcement late Thursday, Bard College said it had received pledges of $750 million toward its endowment drive, including a $500 million promise from longtime backer and noted philanthropist George Soros.

Soros’ gift is one of the largest ever made to a higher education institution and one that promises to be transformational for this 161-year-old national liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Bard officials said the 90-year-old’s generosity – along with the $250 million it received from other trustees, alumni and friends after the Soros statement – means it is three-quarters of the way home in its mission to “strengthen its educational and social initiatives.”

Bard College President Leon Botstein called it “the most historic moment since the college’s founding in 1860. When this endowment drive is complete, Bard will have a $1 billion endowment.”

Bard said endowment funds will go toward financial aid for students, its faculty members and other programs, as well as boost its global presence. Beyond its three locations in the United States, it offers studies in Germany and Hungary and may offer student experiences in Russia and Kyrgyzstan in the fall depending on COVID-19 protocols.

Soros, who made the majority of his wealth through banking and hedge funds, has donated $32 billion of his fortune to philanthropic causes. He started the Open Society Foundations in 1993 as an investment in businesses and organizations that back social causes. Last year, he poured $1 billion into creating the Open Society University Network and made Bard and the Central European University the centerpieces of the global innovation and research effort, along with Arizona State University and other international institutions.

The fondness for Bard stems not only from its heavy liberal arts lean but also its efforts to help underserved individuals across the globe through its partnerships with Al-Quds Bard and the American University of Central Asia, and its work with incarcerated students and adolescents.

“Bard has had an outsized impact, setting the standard in liberal arts education in prisons, in high school age students, and in the arts and in its international work,” Soros said.

The gift from Soros is not the largest in higher ed history – that distinction belongs to Michael Bloomberg, who gifted $1.8 billion to the university he attended, Johns Hopkins. Other notable high-end gifts include two for $500 million each from Nike founder Phil Knight to the University of Oregon; $1 billion over a 40-year period to Cornell University from Charles Feeney; and $600 million over a decade from Intel leader Gordon Moore to the University of California at San Francisco.