- National University, which offers classes online and at campuses in California and Nevada, announced Tuesday that it will be renamed as Sanford National University effective July 1 to reflect contributions from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford.
- Sanford, who is already a donor to the private nonprofit university and the namesake of its College of Education, said he will give the institution an unrestricted $350 million.
- The university is still deciding how it will use the gift but expects it will contribute to the goal of increasing enrollment and lowering students' costs while improving their experience, particularly for adult learners.
National University President David Andrews called the gift "unprecedented" for an institution of its size. The university, which was founded in 1971, enrolls roughly 28,000 students in campus-based and online programs. Its endowment was $545.7 million in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the latest data on the university from the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Sanford, a South Dakota businessman who is worth about $2.4 billion and has pledged to give away most of that wealth in his lifetime, has given roughly $150 million to National University in the last six years.
The new funds will help grow enrollment by increasing adult learners' access to postsecondary education and improving the student experience, according to the university. The funds are also expected to help expand the Sanford Programs, which Sanford helped develop and include training for nonprofit fundraisers, a social-emotional learning program and educator resources.
National University System (NUS), which includes National University and a handful of affiliates including the City University of Seattle, is aiming to double its enrollment to reach 100,000 students in the next five years, its chancellor, Michael Cunningham, told Education Dive Monday. Officials hope to eventually lower tuition to $5,000 a year, though they didn't give a timeline for doing so.
"If we are true to our mission and want to create an affordable, accessible, quality education, we need to increase our scale," he said.
The gift comes as online colleges targeting adult learners are growing rapidly, with the largest broaching or surpassing the 100,000-student mark. National University offers four-week classes that start on a monthly basis and enroll students year round, and its footprint includes learning centers on military bases. Seven in 10 National University students take most of their classes online, according to the university.
Earlier this year, NUS expanded its enrollment with the acquisition of the online Northcentral University. It brought around 10,000 students, mostly in graduate programs, and converted from a for-profit to a nonprofit as part of the deal. NUS has also made workforce education a focus, launching a dedicated unit earlier this year.
Sanford's $350 million is on track to be one of the biggest gifts to higher education this year, following the California Institute of Technology's $750 million gift last month. Last year, for example, Blackstone co-founder Stephen Schwarzman's donation in the same amount to fund a new computing school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the second-highest of the year. And it is among the top 15 gifts to higher education of all time.
His other gifts to higher ed include a $30 million joint donation to South Dakota State University for cybersecurity research and $25 million to Arizona State University for its School of Social and Family Dynamics. He chairs the United National Corp., the holding company for First Premier Bank, which offers credit to higher-risk borrowers.