A former Microsoft executive and current NBA owner has awarded $20 million to St. Paul-based College Possible, a national nonprofit that helps low-income students enroll and succeed in college.
The record-setting gift was announced by the Ballmer Group, founded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie, and will be dispensed over a 10-year period.
“It’s a really extraordinary gift. I can’t say enough how grateful we are,” said Beth Giese, College Possible’s senior director of national external relations. “What’s great about this is, it’s a lot of money and it’s unrestricted. That’s an exceptional and rare gift.”
College Possible has regional offices in six cities — Chicago, Milwaukee, Omaha, Philadelphia and Portland, Ore., as well as St. Paul — and assists 30,000 students each year. The nonprofit has an annual budget of about $12 million, according to tax filings.
“Last year we helped our students secure over $12 million in school support,” Giese said.
Its work aligns closely with the Ballmer Group’s mission to improve economic mobility for American children and families living in poverty.
The Ballmer group, with offices in Bellevue, Wash., and Los Angeles, takes applications for its grant programs by invitation only. Ballmer, who owns the Los Angeles Clippers, has an estimated net worth of $33.4 billion, according to Forbes.
“We are proud to support College Possible’s work to close the degree divide and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” said Tonya Dressel, executive director of the Ballmer Group, in a written statement.
College Possible was founded in 2000 by first-generation college graduate Jim McCorkell. Growing up in a low-income family, McCorkell said he experienced the struggles of first-generation students striving to earn college degrees. He got a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in Northfield and a graduate degree from Harvard.
Promising high school students may apply to College Possible in their junior year. If they are accepted, help from the nonprofit follows them through their college career, including academic and social coaching and ideas on finding tuition money.
College Possible students attend 400 colleges and universities across the country. About 52 percent of the students graduate with a bachelor’s degree in six years, compared to 31 percent of their low-income peers. About 58 percent of all college students graduate with a bachelor’s degrees in six years.
“Our rate is very strong,” Giese said. “We have leveled the playing field.”