Developer Mira Ball gives $10 million to help UK students afford college

Mira Ball explains $10 million gift to UK

Philanthropist Mira Ball explains why she’s donated $10 million to her alma mater, UK.
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Philanthropist Mira Ball explains why she’s donated $10 million to her alma mater, UK.

Philanthropist and developer Mira Ball donated $10 million to the University of Kentucky to help students pay for college, officials announced Tuesday.

The gift will go specifically to students from Nelson and Henderson counties, the home counties of Ball and her late husband, Don. Both Don and Mira Ball attended the University of Kentucky before starting Ball Homes, one of the top development companies in Kentucky.

Mira Ball was the first woman chair of the UK Board of Trustees and is currently serving as a co-chair of UK’s new $2.1 billion capital campaign.

The gift — $2 million given now and $8 million pledged — will be used through the UK LEADS program, which helps students meet whatever unmet college financial needs they have. Across Kentucky, students attending UK have about $60 million in unmet need. Financial issues cause many students to drop out of college.

“This is going to be something that is going to last, and we need to give to things that are lasting and that will mean something in the future,” Ball said. “Education is a big thing we need and the thing that will get us into the centuries to come and keep us sustainable. I hope it continues to do for everyone what it has done for me and others here.”

Ball said she discussed the gift with her husband before his March 24 death.

mira and don ball uk
Mira and the late Don Ball gave $10 million to the University of Kentucky. University of Kentucky

“The incredible generosity of Mira and Don Ball is being felt right here and now at our university, but its impact will extend across time and across generations in our Commonwealth,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “The ripple effect of this gift will be to build stronger families, stronger communities and a healthier, more vibrant state.”

The Balls have been some of the biggest philanthropists in Central Kentucky. They founded the Lexington Hope Center, which develops programs to address the underlying causes of homelessness, including addiction.

UK started UK LEADS two years ago, a reversal of its financial aid patterns of giving most aid to students based on academic performance, without thought to financial need.

Since then, the program has helped 500 students and improved retention rates. In 2016, for example, the program aided about 177 students. UK predicted that only 56 percent of those students would return the next fall without the grant program and that 73 percent would return after receiving help. In reality, about 75 percent of those students returned the next fall.

Ball said she was impressed with the program.

“I was able to work my way through UK, but these students can’t do that,” she said. “It’s something you feel like is good and can really help.”