On Jan. 26, President Sean Decatur announced in a news bulletin that an anonymous donor has pledged a $100 million gift to the College for three new, apartment-style residences on South campus. The donation is the largest in Kenyon’s history, and it places the school in elite company: Kenyon is now one of only 10 liberal arts colleges in the nation to receive a nine-figure gift.
According to Decatur, the donor cited a specific interest in allocating the record-breaking donation to housing on South campus. A housing study conducted by the College last year identified a desire for more apartment-style housing. Construction on the new residences will not begin until spring 2023, after Bushnell and Manning Hall are taken down. The residences will sit near and behind Old Kenyon.
In turn, Kenyon’s Advancement Division can now focus its attention on meeting long-term fundraising goals — primarily securing gifts for scholarships, internship stipends, summer research and growing the College’s endowment. Vice President for Advancement Colleen Garland said the $100 million donation has reinvigorated the College’s fundraising objectives for years to come. The College intended to end its six-year, $300 million fundraising campaign Our Path Forward this year — as they reached the coveted $300 million mark five months ahead of schedule — but are now rebranding and extending it. “The campaign is now being called Our Path Forward to the Bicentennial with a goal of $500 million,” she said.
Per the breakdown of the new campaign, $205 million will go towards financial aid and the hiring of faculty, $50 million will go towards academics, $190 million will go towards overall construction and $55 million will go towards annual fund gifts. The revised campaign will now end in 2024, the year Kenyon turns 200 years old.
According to Decatur, the anonymous donor’s pledge came sooner than expected, even though Garland says discussions between herself, Decatur and the donor began about a year ago. The College obtained notice that they would be receiving the donation towards the end of 2020, which coincided with the conclusion of the housing study.
“The timeline of this is certainly much faster than I anticipated when we started the housing study,” he said. “It was not on the radar screen that we would go from starting a study, finishing the work and then straight to having an opportunity to act on the study so quickly.”
The completion of the new residences will temporarily increase the number of beds on campus, which will allow for renovations to be made to existing dormitories, most importantly those on the First-Year Quad. According to Decatur, subsequent renovations will require dorms to be taken “offline” for some time. Once all construction and renovation is complete, the College will demolish the New Apartments, meaning that there will not be a net gain in housing after the demolitions.
Director of Residential Life Jillian Yoder sees more apartment-style housing options as an enticing draw to prospective students. “We hope that all of our halls and apartments will be more than just a place to sleep — and will continue to be a place for students to connect with one another, learn, and enjoy their four years on campus,” she said.
President Decatur, too, sees this donation as a promising development for the College’s future, especially given the impact COVID-19 has had on Kenyon’s academic and residential life. “As we look to the future, this [donation] is … almost a stake in the ground for the future that Kenyon is, at its heart, a residential college,” said Decatur. “I think that [it’s] really important right now to put that stake in the ground in the future and say that we will not only get through COVID, but when we get through COVID, our values wouldn’t have changed in terms of what’s important.”