Conservative Koch Brothers Make Surprising $25 Million Donation to UNCF

By Julissa Catalan

On Friday, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)—the largest education group to serve the underrepresented community in the U.S.—announced that the conservative Koch brothers had made a $25 million grant donation, a move that comes as a surprise to many because the Koch brothers are typically known to support conservative politicians and causes.

Seemingly anticipating the backlash, UNCF President and CEO Michael Lomax said, “Criticism is a small price for helping young people get the chance to realize their dream of a college education, and if I’ve got to bear the brunt of someone else’s criticism to ensure that we have the resources to help those students, then I can handle it, and I can take the heat.”

He went on to say that he and Charles Koch—Chairman and CEO of Koch Industries— had lunch together and were able to bond because they “shared a profound belief in the importance of education.”

“We talked about students. We talked about the kinds of support they need. We talked about the shared belief that there are a lot of talented young people there whose lives will be transformed if they get a chance to complete a college degree,” Lomax continued.

Koch shared similar sentiments in his own statement, saying, “Increasing well-being by helping people improve their lives has long been our focus” and that the partnership will provide promising students with new educational opportunities.

“We have tremendous respect for UNCF and we are hopeful this investment will further its effectiveness in helping students pursue their dreams,” Koch added.

According to Koch, this is not the first time Koch Industries has donated to UNCF. Since acquiring Georgia-Pacific in 2005, the company has donated more than $1.5 million to the organization.

The $25 million will reportedly be divided into two parts: $18.5 million will be used to create the UNCF/Koch Scholars Program, which will provide 3,000 merit-based scholarships to “exemplary students with demonstrated financial need and an interest in the study of how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society.”

The remaining $6.5 million will provide support for UNCF and its member colleges, with $4 million of that amount reserved to aid students at member institutions who are ineligible to receive a PLUS loan (a loan program where parents serve as a student’s cosigner). With the recent changes in the loan’s eligibility requirements, parents have been denied, leaving students unable to enroll in and attend college.

The agreement between UNCF and the Koch brothers specifies that “an advisory board consisting of two UNCF representatives, two Koch representatives, and one faculty member from an existing school will be created to review scholarship applications and select recipients. Recipients will be selected based on their academic achievements as well as their interest in the program’s fields of study.”

The selected scholarship recipients are expected to be exemplary students interested in exploring possibilities within entrepreneurship, economics and innovation. They are required to attend one of the 37 UNCF-affiliated Historically Black Colleges or one of the 250 universities where the Charles Koch Foundation has an existing program. They will also be expected to attend an annual summit, and will be given mentorship opportunities and the opportunity to participate in an online community.

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