Financier George Soros has pledged a $500 million endowment to Bard College, the liberal arts college in New York’s Hudson Valley announced Thursday.
The pledge stands to more than double Bard’s endowment, which was valued at $220.8 million last summer.
Soros’s pledge is structured as a challenge grant as Bard seeks to raise $1 billion over five years. Bard will receive the $500 million once it has raised a matching $500 million. The college has raised $250 million toward the goal, meaning it has five years to raise another $250 million.
In the meantime, Bard will receive income from the $500 million Soros pledged. The money will be held and managed by the funds Soros advises, the Quantum Group of Funds, until Bard raises the remaining money. Starting July 1, the college will receive income from the pledge as if it is already a college-owned endowment.
“This is the most historic moment since the college’s founding in 1860,” Bard’s president, Leon Botstein, said in a statement. “When this endowment drive is complete, Bard will have a $1 billion endowment, which will ensure its pioneering mission and its academic excellence for the future.”
The pledge comes after Soros last summer committed $100 million to Bard through the Open Society Foundation, a network led by Bard and Central European University that is focused on critical thinking, open inquiry and research in the face of authoritarianism. That money is to be paid out at a rate of $10 million per year over a decade.
Bard leaders have in the past contrasted the college’s financial priorities with those of other well-off institutions that hoard wealth. Under Botstein, Bard has a strong fundraising track record but emphasized spending on programming and other priorities. That model has at times drawn attention from bond ratings agency worried about cash flow, borrowing levels and other financial metrics.
Bard has reported slim net operating income in recent years of several hundred thousand dollars on expenses of more than $200 million, according to financial documents filed for bondholders.
Those documents, dated Dec. 15, demonstrate the significance of the Soros gift. They reference a capital campaign in the silent phase that aimed to raise $500 million for programming and $150 million in operating earmarks. That’s a total goal of $650 million, significantly below the $1 billion that’s targeted after the new gift.
“This is unlike previous campaigns which were largely focused on expanding physical capital to meet the college’s growth,” said a section of the bond documents referencing the earlier version of the capital campaign. “With a larger endowment in place, the college will be well positioned to smooth cash flow with unearned income and set the stage for any leadership changes and unanticipated challenges that the near future might present.”
Bard enrolls about 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students at its main campus.