Centre College announces a record $250 million gift

A statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in front of Crounse Hall on the Centre College campus in Danville. The school announced Tuesday that a former student has arranged for a $250 million gift.
A statue of Abraham Lincoln stands in front of Crounse Hall on the Centre College campus in Danville. The school announced Tuesday that a former student has arranged for a $250 million gift. Herald-Leader

A Texas businessman has arranged for a $250 million donation to Centre College, where officials touted the gift Tuesday as the largest ever to a private liberal arts college in the United States.

The record-breaking gift follows several others that had totaled $47 million from Robert "Bob" Brockman, who attended Centre more than 50 years ago and is the former chairman of Centre's board of trustees.

Brockman, through the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust, will give stock from Universal Computer Systems Holding Inc., also known as Reynolds and Reynolds, to establish the Brockman Scholars Program in Leadership and Entrepreneurship.

Each year, 40 Brockman Scholars will receive full scholarships for four years, including tuition, room and board, fees, and stipends to study abroad, Centre President John Roush said. The program begins in 2014, with students majoring mostly in science and economics, including biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, economics, math and psychology. Roush cautioned that many details have to be worked out, but selection will be based solely on merit.

Centre's full cost is about $45,000 a year, although more than half of its students receive some financial aid.

"This will add some incredible punch in terms of attracting students," Roush said Tuesday morning during a news conference.

The gift also provides a huge start to the school's next capital project, the Third Century campaign, aimed at raising $500 million, Roush said.

The gift tops off a successful decade for the picturesque red-brick school, which has raised more than $170 million, built almost $100 million in new facilities, hosted two vice presidential debates and garnered top rankings among small private colleges.

"It's a significant gift to any institution, but certainly to a relatively small liberal arts institution, it has the power to do a lot," said Rae Goldsmith, a vice president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Washington, D.C.

The Bermuda-based Brockman Trust is named for Bob Brockman's father, who died in 1986. Bob Brockman, through the trust, has given about $47 million to Centre previously, including funding for Pearl Hall, named for his mother and grandmother, and the $19 million Brockman Commons, a student housing complex.

Brockman, 72, lives in Houston and rarely speaks publicly, according to news accounts. He did not appear at Tuesday's news conference, and university officials said he would not comment on the donation.

'First great victories'

Richard Trollinger, vice president for college relations at Centre, worked with Brockman to structure the gift.

He said Brockman came to Centre from St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1959, having never visited the campus before he arrived as a freshman. Brockman left Centre after two years to get a business degree from the University of Florida, but he credits Centre for his success.

"He said 'I had my first great victories in life at Centre,'" Trollinger recounted. "He got a sense of his own potential."

According to his official biography, Brockman started his career at Ford Motor Co., then moved to the IBM Service Bureau, selling automotive parts inventory and accounting data processing services.

In 1970, Brockman founded Universal Computer Services Inc. in Houston as a service bureau to provide data processing services to automotive dealerships. In 2006, UCS acquired Reynolds and Reynolds, an auto dealer support company in Ohio, and merged under its name in a deal valued at $2.8 billion.

Roush said Bob Brockman remains chairman of Reynolds and Reynolds and is confident that the company's stock will retain its value.

"Bob is a genius at making money," Trollinger said. "Fortunately, he is also very philanthropic."

Brockman also has served on the board of Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston.

Trollinger said the vision for Brockman's gift is to help Centre shape "job creators" who devote entrepreneurial thinking to society's needs.

Recruitment tool

Brockman has served on Centre's board since 1998, shortly after Roush became president. Roush recently celebrated his 63rd birthday, and his 15-year tenure is a long one for college presidents, but he said he has no intention of letting Brockman's gift be a capstone on his career.

"It's clear to me there's more to be done," Roush said. "I want to help shape this program so it really has the impact we want."

Roush said he hopes that the gift will inspire others to give to Centre and elsewhere, saying that colleges and universities are creating more ways to help students pay for school. Goldsmith said many schools have had to raise money merely to return their scholarship funding to the pre-recession levels of 2007.

However, Sarah Goldrick-Rab, an expert on higher education financing at the University of Wisconsin, said research shows that merit scholarships do not improve overall educational attainment because most of that aid goes to middle-class students who would already go to school and would have the means to finance it.

"This is more of a good recruitment tool for Centre," she said.

Centre had 1,340 students last year, half of whom were from out of state, and most of whom scored 26 to 31 out of a possible 36 on the ACT. Ninety-eight percent of its students live on its 118-acre campus in Danville.

Roush said Centre will grow over the next few years but enrollment will be capped at about 1,400 students.

Centre ranks 52nd on U.S. News & World Report's list of best liberal arts schools in the nation.

Big donations

The $250 million gift announced Tuesday by Centre College ranks as the 19th-largest in higher education, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. However, the 18 larger gifts were all made to major universities.

$600 million: In 2001, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation gave $600 million to the California Institute of Technology.

$350 million: Most recently, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged $350 million to Johns Hopkins University.

$200 million: The second-largest gift to a private liberal arts college was $200 million, given to Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., in 2007.

$25 million: In Kentucky, the largest single gift is thought to have been $25 million, given to the University of Louisville in 2011 by Louisville philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier.

$14 million: The largest single gift to the University of Kentucky was $14 million, from Carol Martin "Bill" Gatton in 1995 to the Gatton College of Business and Economics.