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Duke Grad Gives School $50M To Help Poor Students

Duke University graduate and investment manager Bruce Karsh Duke University graduate and investment manager Bruce Karsh

RALEIGH, N.C. – A Duke University graduate and investment manager, along with his wife, is giving $50 million to his alma mater to help undergraduates attend the elite school in North Carolina, campus officials announced Monday.

University trustee Bruce Karsh and his wife, Martha, gave $30 million to help U.S. students and $20 million for international students, the Durham school said.

The Karshes’ gift is the largest the university has ever received from individuals to support financial aid and adds to $35 million the couple already have given Duke for that purpose, the school said.

“These are people who want to support higher education, but there’s one thing they really want to support, which is having higher education be accessible to talented students regardless of their parents’ income,” Duke President Richard Brodhead said in an interview.

Duke’s undergraduate tuition is nearly $41,000 a year, but the school boasts that it does not consider an applicant’s ability to pay for college when making admissions decisions. Duke also said it guarantees to meet the full demonstrated financial need of admitted U.S. students with a package of grants, loans and work-study opportunities.

The donation designates that $5 million will be used to help graduates of a national network of college-preparatory public schools working in poor communities. The money will be set aside to help graduates of the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP school, who are accepted to Duke.

“We have many KIPP students with the academic ability to attend Duke, but who lack the financial resources. This gift will make their dreams possible,” said Tiffany Flowers, principal of a KIPP middle school in Charlotte, one of three KIPP charter schools in North Carolina.

Martha Karsh, an attorney and co-founder of a Beverly Hills architectural firm, is an advisory board member for KIPP LA Schools.

Bruce Karsh is president of Oaktree Capital Management, an investment company he co-founded in Los Angeles in 1995. He also volunteers as chairman of the nonprofit corporation that manages Duke’s nearly $6 billion endowment as well as the university’s pension funds and other long-term investments.

Oaktree Capital Management has built a reputation as a hedge fund that buys bad debt and troubled assets and restructures them. In the past year, the company has announced plans to invest in coastal resort properties in Hawaii and Georgia, radio stations in New Jersey, furniture industry trade show space in Las Vegas and High Point, and the bankrupt Tribune Co., which owns major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

Bruce Karsh said he and his wife believe “that motivated, talented students—whether from underserved communities in the U.S or from around the globe—should be able to attend a great university like Duke, which can nurture their talent and help them reach their potential,” he said in a statement.

The Karshes’ gift expands on $20 million they gave Duke in 2008 to establish a program that launched this year aimed at paying the undergraduate expenses of promising overseas students to study in Durham. The first group of Karsh International Scholars includes nine students from Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Spain, Ukraine, Ecuador, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, the university said.

About 5 percent of Duke’s undergraduates were from foreign countries when Brodhead became president in 2004, he said, and the percentage has grown to more than 8 percent of the nearly 6,700 undergraduates this year.

When “students from this country get a chance to meet people from around the world, it’s a very powerful form of education,” Brodhead said. “Everyone from whatever country, the United States or anywhere else, is going to have to negotiate their way in a global society. And so it’s great to learn those skills at the youngest possible age.”

Emery Dalesio can be reached at

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