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CHAMPAIGN — The amount was stunning: $150 million from a single donor, the largest gift in University of Illinois history and one of the largest to a business school anywhere.

The donation by Chicago entrepreneur Larry Gies and his wife, Beth, both UI alumni, prompted the UI College of Business to change its name in their honor.

A year later, how is that money being spent?

The college didn't get $150 million in one lump sum. But the first installment has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for student scholarships, money for a faculty recruiting program and support for the college's growing online initiatives, according to Dean Jeffrey Brown.

"It's had an immediate impact," he said Tuesday.

Gies, a 1988 UI accounting graduate from Mendota, is the founder, president and CEO of Madison Industries, one of the largest privately held companies in the world.

At his request, the details of the gift haven't been made public, Brown said.

The couple made a "generous" initial donation last year and will be paying other installments over time, most of it over the next 10 years, he said. A small portion will also be donated as an estate gift later.

Their unrestricted gift, combined with the end of the two-year state budget impasse, meant that the college was able to start investing in key priorities, including student scholarships, Brown said. That was important to Gies, who regularly returns to campus to work with students, he said. Gies could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

All told, the investments so far add up to several million dollars of spending annually. But Brown said the college is trying to be prudent, laying out a long-term plan so that "whatever spending we start doing we can sustain forever."

For freshmen this fall, scholarship dollars rose by 40 percent over the amount awarded the previous year, he said. Most of those are four-year awards. That extra $200,000 will also be awarded to the next three freshman classes, bringing the total increase in scholarships for all undergraduates to about $800,000 over the next four years, he said.

Scholarships are also a priority for the college's overall fundraising campaign, part of the $2.25 billion "With Illinois" campus fund drive, he said.

"My goal at the start of this campaign was to double our scholarship capacity in the college," Brown said. "This got us a huge first step."

Hiring frenzy

The college was previously spending about $2 million a year on scholarships for its 3,200 undergraduates, or roughly $500,000 per class, he said. The goal is to get that closer to $4 million by the end of the campaign in 2022, he said.

That doesn't include awards made under the UI's new Illinois Commitment program that will waive tuition and fees for qualified Illinois students with family incomes of $61,000 or less.

"Between that and what we're doing with philanthropic dollars, we're going to be able to meet a significant unmet need in the college," he said.

For students who receive free tuition and fees through Illinois Commitment, the college may offer additional help with room and board costs, he said. And there are lots of other students in the middle whose families earn too much for Illinois Commitment but still need aid, he said.

"There's never enough," he said. "If I had another $10 million a year for scholarships, I could put it all to good use for very deserving students."

Tuition and fees for the College of Business total about $17,000 a year for in-state students, and about $33,600 for out-of-state or international students.

Regarding faculty numbers, Brown said one of his priorities when he became dean in 2015 was to hire 30 new professors over the next few years, to support new undergraduate programs, research, online education and entrepreneurship activities.

The Gies gift "makes it financially possible to achieve that vision," he said.

"We are hiring in almost all areas and all fields," he said.

So far, the college has added 10 net positions, accounting for retirements and other departures, and Brown hopes to pick up that pace. The positions include research faculty and other scholars, as well as "skilled practitioners" moving from the private sector, most of them alumni — including a former chief financial officer, an investment banker and a partner at Deloitte.

'Vote of confidence'

The Gies gift also makes it possible for the college to expand its online programs — an MBA program launched in 2016 and a master's in accounting that started in 2017. Both have proven popular, and it will require additional faculty and support staff to offer courses more frequently, he said.

"It will be a good financial and reputational investment long term," he said.

The Gies gift was a "vote of confidence" that created momentum for the college — and a bump in enrollment, Brown said. The freshman class jumped to 635 this year, from 565 last year, even though the college admitted the same number of students, he said.

Business majors interviewed Tuesday said the gift, and having a name for the college, definitely created a buzz.

"It was amazing to see how much it brought together all of the College of Business," said junior Lauren Alberts, who attended all of the events surrounding the gift announcement last October.

Alberts received a $5,000 scholarship for the first time this year, which was "definitely helpful in funding my education. And it was a weight off the shoulders of my family," she said. "I think it was awesome that Larry Gies was able to provide this for the students in the College of Business."

Likewise, junior Christopher Billing, a New York native who received a $3,000 award this year, said the Gies gift gave a boost to the college's profile.

About two weeks before last year's announcement, Billing and other students were asked to be in a photo shoot with Gies — although "we all had no idea who he was. It was very secretive."

Two weeks later, when the gift was announced, the Gies name became a household word, plastered on buttons, banners and letterhead for the college.

"I definitely would have shook his hand if I had the chance," Billing said.

Reporter/Columnist

Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).