Philanthropist Calvin Tyler Jr., and his wife, Tina, pledged $20 million Monday to his alma mater Morgan State University, which the university said is the largest gift to any HBCU ever made by one of its former students.
The gift will fund scholarships that were established under the Tylers’ name at the historically Black university in 2002. It’s the second largest private donation the school in Baltimore has received following philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s $40 million gift in December.
The donation is personal to Tyler, who grew up in a low-income family and was forced to drop out of Morgan State in 1963 because he couldn’t pay for the costs.
“I didn’t have a scholarship, so I was struggling to pay tuition and working and trying to take care of myself at the same time,” Tyler told The Associated Press. “So I stayed there as long as I could and learned as much as I could, but I had to drop out and go to work.”
The following year, Tyler saw a job advertisement in a Baltimore newspaper from United Parcel Service and got a job with the company as a driver. He rose up through the ranks during his 34-year career at the global shipping company to become senior vice president of U.S. operations and a member of the company’s board of directors before retiring in 1998.
Tyler and his wife, also of Baltimore, have lived all across the country but he says they’ve never forgotten their humble beginnings. Their latest pledge follows a $5 million commitment they made in 2016 for the fund, which to date has supported 222 students with full or partial scholarships.
These gifts are critical to the school, which says 90% of its students receive financial aid. The couple were “keenly aware of the effect” of the pandemic on students, Tyler said, and expanded their giving to offer more full scholarships so students “can graduate from college and enter the next stage of their life debt free.”
Marybeth Gasman, a professor at Rutgers University who studies HBCUs, says the gift is significant because public HBCUs like Morgan State University tend to have a lower alumni giving rate compared to private ones.
“For a long time, they weren’t asking alumni to give,” she said. But that has changed in the past couple decades, she added, and the schools have “started asking alumni to give and creating a culture of philanthropy on campus.”
Gasman says Black people tend to donate a higher percentage of their discretionary income. But she says this might be the largest gift from an alum because HBCU graduates have not had access “to build assets in the same way” as others with four-year degrees.
“Systemic racism plays a part in all of that,” she added.
The scholarship fund, which was originally set up to provide need-based scholarships to students from Baltimore, will now be offered to students from across the United States, the school said.
David K. Wilson, the president of Morgan State University, says it will help students for years to come.
“Morgan is so proud to call this son and daughter of the great city of Baltimore our own,” he said in a statement. “And through their historic giving, the doors of higher education will most certainly be kept open for generations of aspiring leaders whose financial shortfalls may have kept them from realizing their academic dreams.”