Duke University, a bastion of higher education based in Durham, North Carolina, has recently marked a milestone in its funding history. The Duke Endowment, a century-old benefactor of the university, has bestowed upon it a staggering $100 million donation. This grand gesture marks the highest single gift ever received by Duke and is set to markedly augment the university's financial aid programs, thereby catalyzing an increase in its student body's socioeconomic diversity.
Addressing Socioeconomic Diversity
Despite Duke's illustrious status, it has historically lagged behind other top-tier institutions in terms of the proportion of students eligible for federal Pell grants, a yardstick of financial need. In the 2020-21 academic year, only 12% of Duke's freshmen received Pell grants, as opposed to higher percentages at peer institutions like Yale and Columbia. However, a silver lining has emerged as 17% of Duke's current freshmen class have received such grants, signaling a positive shift.
A Century-Old Benefactor
The endowment, a legacy of the industrialist James B. Duke established in 1924, has been a long-standing supporter of the university and Duke Health, contributing nearly $2 billion over the past century. This latest act of generosity will allocate around $62 million to undergraduate financial aid. The focus will be on students hailing from North and South Carolina and graduates from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) pursuing advanced degrees at Duke.
Homage to Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke
Additionally, a significant portion of the donation, approximately $25 million, will be channelled towards the renovation of an academic building named after Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of the first African American undergraduates at Duke. This initiative aligns with the university's commitment to diversifying its student body, a goal that has gained prominence amid the growing complexity of race-conscious admissions practices.
Not a Reaction, but a Proactive Move
This commitment comes in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the explicit consideration of race in admissions. Duke President Vincent E. Price, however, has emphasized that the planned diversity initiatives are not a knee-jerk reaction to the Supreme Court decision but have been a part of the university's long-term objectives. Meanwhile, Duke continues to face criticism over 'legacy' admission preferences, which skeptics argue could potentially impede efforts to diversify the student population.