Carleton College publicly launched a $400 million fundraising campaign on Friday, which got a jump start from a single $50 million donation — the largest gift in the school’s history and among the largest for Minnesota private colleges.

Carleton, a private liberal arts college in Northfield, already has raised $315.7 million during the early stages of the campaign, including more than $100 million from members of its board of trustees. The college hopes to raise at least $85 million more by the time the campaign, which began July 1, 2015, ends in June 2021.

The single $50 million donation is coming from Wallace Weitz, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, his wife and three children — all Carleton alumni. Weitz, who lives in Omaha, is the founder of Weitz Investment Management and already has been a significant contributor to the college with the Weitz Center for Creativity bearing the family’s name. Weitz and his wife, Barbara Veach Weitz, are members of the campaign steering committee.

“Carleton was a very important part of my life, my wife’s life and my kids’ lives,” Wallace Weitz said. “We feel very warmly toward it. But I think we believe the world needs more people with a liberal arts education to help bring broader thinking to world problems and maybe some civility. Carleton is good at producing future leaders.”

For some, a liberal arts degree has become a harder sell as higher education costs rise and parents and students focus on degrees geared for specific careers.

“I think people think that [a liberal arts degree] is totally impractical, and who needs a philosophy or history major. But it’s really about teaching people to think and to reason and to have a broad perspective so they can approach problems in a comprehensive way,” Weitz said. “We need doctors and architects, too. The skills to cope in any environment is the critical thinking.”

Carleton enrolls about 2,000 students from across the U.S. and 35 countries. Tuition, room and board and a student activity fee totaled more than $66,000 last academic year, and that’s expected to grow to nearly $69,000 this academic year. The college, on its website, said it provides 100 percent of a student’s demonstrated financial need.

A large chunk of the money from the campaign will be used to provide students with financial aid, as well as money for internships, research and career opportunities, Weitz said. A $150 million endowment will provide about $7.5 million a year for financial aid, especially for middle-income students, he said.

“More than half our students receive some sort of financial aid,” Weitz said.

The fundraising campaign also plans to raise $35 million for hands-on experiential learning such as internships and research opportunities.

“It’s a practical outlet for what students have learned,” Weitz said. To help make that possible, some of the money will help pay students who take unpaid internships, he explained.

“Some people can’t afford to take an unpaid internship because they need to work and earn money for school,” he added.

The campaign, dubbed Every Carl for Carleton, also will help finance a new science building that’s under construction and an already completed addition to the Weitz Center for Creativity.

The Weitzes’ $50 million donation easily stacks up against some of the largest donations made to Minnesota’s private colleges. Last year, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter broke its own record with a $40 million donation from an alumni couple, and the University of St. Thomas received a $50 million gift for undergraduate student scholarships from a Minnesota philanthropy started by one of its alumni. St. Thomas previously landed other big donations, including a $60 million gift in 2007 and a $50 million donation the following year.