University of Michigan Gets $150 Million Gift for Cancer Center

  • Donation is largest in history of university’s medical school
  • The givers: health insurance exec Richard Rogel and wife

The University of Michigan received the largest donation in the history of its medical school, a $150 million gift from an alumnus who made his fortune in the health insurance industry.

In making the gift, Richard Rogel, the founder of the Preferred Provider Organization of Michigan, and his wife, Susan, will have the university’s cancer center named after them. The donation will fund cancer-focused research grants, scholarships and the establishment of a program that brings international researchers to Michigan, the school said in a statement Thursday.

Richard and Susan Rogel

Source: University of Michigan

The donation was nearly half a decade in the making. In July 2015, while recruiting friends to attend a symposium where the cancer center was presenting, one of them asked whether the research institution was named after anyone. It wasn’t and Susan thought the Rogel Cancer Center had a nice ring to it. So she immediately called her husband with the idea.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” Richard Rogel, 69, said in a telephone interview. “I had been thinking about this every day for two years.”

Next came paying for it.

“After we spoke, my next thought was: ‘How are we ever going to be able to afford this?”’ Rogel said. “It’s a stretch for us.”

For the Rogels, cancer research is of personal importance. Richard Rogel said his father died from pancreatic cancer and Susan lost both parents to cancer. His wife’s daughter, Ilene, died five years ago because of a form of lung cancer with few available treatment options.

Rogel graduated in 1970 as valedictorian from the University of Michigan business school. He serves on several of the institution’s boards, including its fundraising group, which he co-chairs. Rogel founded Preferred Provider, the first insurance company of its kind, in 1982. He now runs an investing firm that manages his personal wealth.

The Rogels have given a total of $188.5 million to the university, including the sum announced Thursday, the school said.

The Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, housed in a former Pfizer Inc. research facility, was ranked the 12th best cancer hospital in the country by U.S. News & World Report magazine for 2017-2018.

U.S. colleges received a record $43.6 billion in charitable donations in 2017, according to the Council for Aid to Education, which tracks university giving. But the federal tax overhaul may make donors less generous in 2018, as the increase in the standard deduction eliminates giving incentives for many taxpayers.

State support to higher education has also stalled. Growth in public appropriations to colleges hit a five-year low this year, a credit negative for public universities that are struggling to keep revenue growing at the same pace as expenses, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The University of Michigan is the third-wealthiest public school in the U.S., with an $11 billion endowment. The school’s board of regents is expected to approve the name change on Thursday afternoon.

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