Nike's Philip Knight Gives $400 Million to Stanford University

  • Donation funds $750 million endowment for new graduate program
  • Outgoing president Hennessy to become inaugural director

Nike Inc. co-founder Philip Knight donated $400 million to Stanford University to start a graduate scholars program that will address “global challenges” facing society.

The gift is the largest-ever cash contribution from an individual to Stanford, the university said Wednesday in a statement. Knight, an alumnus, has long been a supporter, donating to the graduate school of business as well as backing endowed professorships and athletics, according to the release.

Phil Knight
Phil Knight
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The latest donation is among dozens made to fund a $750 million endowment for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, a new graduate-level scholarship aimed at grooming global leaders, Stanford said. It’s named for Knight and John Hennessy, the university’s president who is stepping down and will serve as the program’s inaugural director.

Health, Human Rights

“We wanted to create something enduring, that would be unlike anything else currently available to the world’s brightest minds, and that would make the biggest impact possible toward solving global challenges affecting the environment, health, education and human rights,” Hennessy said in the statement.

The Knight-Hennessy program will admit 100 scholars a year, funding them for three years of graduate studies and focusing on “leadership, innovation and other curricula designed to develop scholars’ capacity to lead ambitious change in a complex world,” Stanford said in the statement. Because more than 80 percent of the $750 million endowment will go to support students, the new program represents the single largest increase in financial aid in the university’s history, it said.

Stanford, located near Palo Alto, California, is the most prolific fundraiser in higher education, collecting a record $1.6 billion in the year through June 30, according to the Council for Aid to Education, which tracks university giving. U.S. colleges raised a record $40.3 billion as the nation’s wealthiest institutions attracted a disproportionate share of philanthropy, data from the New York-based group showed.

Knight, who turned 78 today, co-founded Nike in the 1960s and led the company as it became a global brand for sneakers and athletic wear. He’s a major philanthropist and ranks among the richest individuals in the world, worth $25.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. In addition to Stanford, where he went to graduate school, he has made a number of sizable donations to the University of Oregon, where he was an undergraduate, and to its health-care affiliate.

Other donors to the global scholars program include $100 million from Peninsula Capital LLC founder Robert King and his wife Dorothy and $50 million from General Atlantic LLC Chairman Steven Denning and his wife Roberta. Denning is also chairman of Stanford’s board of trustees.

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