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Hedge fund chief gives Harvard $150M for undergrad scholarships, aid

By Matt Smith, CNN
February 20, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
  • Griffin says future leaders should be able to attend "the finest institution in the world"
  • His $150 million gift is Harvard College's biggest and among the largest ever
  • Tuition, fees, room and board at Harvard top $56,000 a year
  • School has been ramping up its financial aid in recent years

(CNN) -- It's the largest gift in the nearly 400-year history of Harvard College, a nine-figure sum aimed at giving hundreds of students who win admission "against long odds" the means to attend.

The $150 million donation from hedge-fund chieftain Ken Griffin, class of '89, will fund full scholarships for 200 Harvard undergraduates and provide matching funds for another 600, the university announced Wednesday.

"It's about having a chance to play a part in helping to ensure the next generation of leaders in America has access to the finest institution in the world," said Griffin, who founded the Chicago-based Citadel fund a year after graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics.

Griffin told CNN the scholarships are aimed at students who "have done really, really well in their classwork against long odds. This is their chance to go to America's greatest college."

Harvard tuition currently runs just under $39,000 a year, with total costs -- room, board and fees -- running more than $56,000. With an endowment of more than $32 billion, the famed Cambridge, Massachusetts, school isn't hurting for money and has been ramping up its financial aid in recent years.

The average student gets about $12,000 a year in aid. About 20% of the college's 6,700 undergrads come from families that earn less than $65,000 a year. They pay no expenses.

Griffin, who already has established one Harvard scholarship, said the school's commitment to "need-blind" admissions and equality of opportunity inspired his contribution.

"I think for me, as a Harvard alumnus who really did benefit tremendously from a Harvard experience, this is as a chance for me to really support a set of values and beliefs that I believe in strongly," he said.

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Harvard College is the undergraduate arm of Harvard University.

"Ken Griffin's extraordinary philanthropy is opening Harvard's gates wider to the most talented students in the world, no matter their economic circumstances," Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a statement announcing the gift. The scholarships Griffin's donation will fund mean "Harvard is more accessible than ever before," she said.

Also included in the gift is $10 million for an endowed professorship in business administration at the Harvard Business School, which will be named for Griffin. The university's financial aid office will also bear his name, the school announced.

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