Blackstone’s Jon Gray Donates $10 Million for Financial Aid at UPenn

(Bloomberg) -- In his senior year at University of Pennsylvania, not long before accepting an offer to work at Blackstone Group Inc., Jon Gray put down a book at the library to ask out Mindy Basser.

Blackstone’s Jon Gray Donates $10 Million for Financial Aid at UPenn

Last week, the couple, married for 24 years, were back on campus for a study break with a different kind of chemistry: after visiting Bennett Hall where they took a Romantic poetry class together, they walked across the quad to meet the freshmen whose tuition and expenses they’ve agreed to cover for the next four years.

The Grays, both 49, are giving the university $10 million to support 10 students from New York City annually, the university will announce on Monday. The gift will also provide funding for Penn First Plus, which seeks to give the full college experience to low-income and first-generation students.

“Everybody recognizes equality of opportunity is really important,” Jon Gray, president of Blackstone, said in a telephone interview. “There are lots of ways to help kids at higher income levels get to these schools. The idea here is we’re looking to help low-income people whose families haven’t been to universities.”

Blackstone’s Jon Gray Donates $10 Million for Financial Aid at UPenn

“It’s about really feeling embraced on campus and access for summer internships and access to study abroad, and not just the base-line tuition,” said Mindy Gray, who with three older siblings was the first generation of her family to attend college, which her now 101-year-old dad “worked hard to be able to afford.”

Reducing burdensome student debt has become a focus of universities, philanthropists and presidential candidates looking to address growing income inequality. President Donald Trump has asked aides to come up with a plan to counter those of Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats, according to a Washington Post report last week. Princeton University recently exempted students on financial aid from contributing their summer earnings. Vista Equity Partners’ Robert Smith promised to payoff the student loans of Morehouse College’s 2019 graduates.

The cost of a year at Penn, including tuition and expenses like books and transportation, is $78,186, according to the university’s website.

For the Grays, the gift is a “natural extension” of their foundation’s work with New York City youth, representing $100 million in funding so far, Jon Gray said. Grants have helped families in Queens start college savings accounts and opened school-based health clinics in the Bronx. Their focus on New York youth is because the city has been their home for almost 30 years, where they raised four daughters and where Jon Gray built his career in private equity. The Grays are worth $3.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“Our children are living in the city and have access to incredible opportunity, and others who live close by don’t,” Mindy Gray said.

Blackstone’s Jon Gray Donates $10 Million for Financial Aid at UPenn

The gift also stems from a commitment to Penn, starting with a $19.92 contribution in the year they graduated. It has since grown to include more than $55 million to found and operate the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine, named for Mindy’s sister Faith, who died from BRCA-related ovarian cancer.

While that gift was tied to the loss of a loved one, the financial aid donation connects the Grays to the Romantic poetry class where they fell in love.

Mindy, by the way, got the better grade. “I was smitten,” Jon Gray said. “I lost my focus.”

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