CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois has received its largest-ever donation — a $150 million gift — from the head of a Chicago private equity firm, school officials have announced.
The gift from Larry Gies, chief executive of Madison Industries, and his wife, Beth, means the university’s business school at the Urbana-Champaign campus will now be known as the Gies College of Business. School officials confirmed the $150 million gift was the largest gift in U of I history.
The donation comes as the University of Illinois system embarks on an ambitious, five-year multibillion-dollar fundraising drive across its three campuses in the wake of the state's recent budget impasse that has drastically reduced the system’s state funding.
The donation will be used to create graduate programs and use “technology to democratize education,” according to school officials. One example is the business school’s iMBA program, a master’s program started in January 2016 that is conducted entirely online and costs about a third of what equivalent degrees cost, school officials said. The university sees it as a way to reduce barriers to geography, cost and access, officials said.
Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert J. Jones stressed that the emphasis of the gift will be on expanding the business school's programming and scholarships rather than constructing new campus buildings.
“This is not about brick and mortar,” he said. "It's about investing in scholarships, investing in opportunities for our students to get the most amazing experiences inside and outside the classroom,” Jones said.
The Gieses’ gift is the second major gift to an Illinois business school this month. Another couple, Amy and Richard F. Wallman, donated $75 million to the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Jones said the massive gifts aren’t competitions, but clear changes of how universities will fund themselves during trying economic times.
“It definitely is not an arms race to see who can make the most money,” he said. “More and more you're going to see philanthropy as a greater part of the financial model for public universities as its always been a part of the financial model for private universities.”
Larry Gies founded what became Madison Industries in 1994. Over the years, it has acquired or started dozens of companies across a range of industries, with an emphasis on owning and operating them.
Gies, in a statement, called his alma mater “a very special place.”
He graduated in 1988 with a degree in accountancy, while Beth, whom he met at the school and later married, graduated the following year with a degree in agriculture, university officials said. Larry Gies went on to earn an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in 1992.