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South Florida Colleges' Efforts To Serve Minority, Low-Income Students Recognized With $70M In Surprise Donations

Photo of Florida International University's campus

Florida International University and Broward College plan to use the unrestricted funding to boost programs for needy students.

Two South Florida colleges known nationally for creating opportunities for Black and Latino students, as well as those from low-income backgrounds, received a total of $70 million in the latest surprise windfall from a billionaire philanthropist.

Mackenzie Scott, a novelist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has been determined to give away most of her fortune. Florida International University and Broward College are among the latest beneficiaries of her massive donations, receiving $40 million and $30 million respectively.

"Higher education is a proven pathway to opportunity, so we looked for 2 and 4-year institutions successfully educating students who come from communities that have been chronically underserved," Scott wrote in a Medium post Tuesday, explaining her $2.75 billion in donations to nearly 300 nonprofit organizations around the country.

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Both colleges in South Florida called the gifts "transformational." They are unrestricted, which means the colleges can spend the money any way they choose.

In a news release, Broward College outlined its efforts over the last three years to expand educational access in the county's neediest zip codes through an initiative called Broward UP.

"With these resources, we can accomplish two goals: Broward UP will exist in perpetuity, and Broward College will strengthen its support of additional cities throughout Broward County," the college wrote in a statement. "In short, the promise we made has been fortified, and we will expand upon it.

"This gift is a sign of trust and validation of our direction," the statement said.

FIU leaders say they will spend the funding on programs designed to support students who need the most help to succeed. Those include scholarships, emergency grants and intensive math programs.

The University of Central Florida in Orlando also received $40 million from Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett. It was the largest gift in the university's history.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.