Edina couple gives $10 million to St. Thomas for scholarships

The money, donated by an alum and his wife, is the university's biggest single gift to go to scholarships.

Mary and Gene Frey

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The largest single gift for a scholarship fund in the history of the University of St. Thomas was announced Thursday.

Eugene and Mary Frey, an Edina couple with a long history of supporting the university, are making a $10 million gift to provide grants to undergraduate students with financial need.

Priority will be given to students of color, from immigrant communities or with physical disabilities, as well as to first-generation St. Thomas students.

The Freys gift already provided 20 scholarships to students this year, said Mark Dienhart, the university's executive vice president and chief administrative officer. When Eugene Frey attended St. Thomas six decades ago, annual tuition was $450; next year, undergraduate tuition will top $27,000. That's one reason he and his wife decided to make the gift.

"I have been struck during our discussions about the changes in demographics and how it will become increasingly difficult for many students to be able to afford a St. Thomas education," said Eugene Frey, who has served on the St. Thomas Board of Trustees since 1988.

"We have to find ways to discount a college education,'' Dienhart said Thursday. "Every institution at this stage of the game would tell you that their No. 1 need is to make college educations affordable. And if they're not saying that, they're mistaken, I think."

Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said the amount of grants and scholarships given to students at Minnesota's private and public colleges and universities increased from $262 million in 2001 to $328 million in 2005.

"The idea is to make the cost of college affordable for everyone,'' she said. "This money is critical and very important."

University of St. Thomas officials hope the Frey donation will inspire other donors to provide money for scholarships.

"There's a lot of appeal for giving gifts for things that people can actually see,'' Dienhart said. "So we get very significant donations for buildings, which are very important. But it is kind of rare for St. Thomas and schools this size to receive gifts of this size that people are willing to see go directly to student financial aid."

pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482 mlsmith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788

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