Financial aid pledge is U’s largest

A pair of alumni announced their $10 million gift for scholarships Friday at a regents meeting.

Jake Weyer

When Larry Bentson attended the University from 1939-1943, he had to scrape to get the $45 he needed to pay tuition each year.

Now University students have to scrape together $7,000 or more annually for tuition.

Wanting to help, Bentson and his wife Nancy Bentson announced a $10 million donation for scholarships at the Board of Regents meeting Friday.

The donation is the largest the University has ever received solely for scholarships. In a few years, an estimated 100 students will receive at least $5,000 yearly for four years from the scholarship.

Students will begin receiving the scholarships in fall 2004. About 25 students will receive the scholarship the first year, but that number will eventually rise, said Wayne Sigler, director of the Office of Admissions.

The Bentsons originally donated the money as a bequest during the University’s Campaign Minnesota, meaning the money would not be used until their deaths. However, because of rising tuition and the University’s budget shortfalls, the couple decided to make the donation immediately.

In a speech to the University Board of Regents on Friday, Larry Bentson said he and his wife were glad to see the money used while they were still alive.

“It does so much good for people who otherwise probably couldn’t attend the University the way they’d like,” he said.

Larry said he and Nancy have strong ties to the University through family members who have attended, and he felt they owed the University the money.

Larry graduated from the University in 1943 with an engineering degree, and Nancy graduated in 1945 with a medical technology degree. Larry became a partner at Midcontinent Media in 1952 and still works there, according to the company’s Web site. The communications company owns theaters, video stores and provides cable television in the Midwest.

To receive a Bentson scholarship, students must fill out the same application used for all University scholarships, Sigler said. The Office of Admissions reviews the applications to decide which scholarship, if any, a student will receive.

For the Bentson scholarships, Jewish students are given preference, but the admissions office also takes into account a student’s academic record, coursework rigor, standardized test scores, leadership roles and community service involvement, Sigler said. Financial need is also a factor.

With tuition rates rising, Sigler said, the Bentsons’ gift is well timed.

“This is a very timely gift,” Sigler said. “It will really help a lot of deserving students.”

The $10 million will be invested, and a percentage of the money will be provided for scholarships each year. This enables the scholarship fund to last indefinitely, said Martha Douglas, departmental director for the University of Minnesota Foundation.

About $500,000 in scholarships will be awarded in 2004.

Douglas said the University had received about $60 million in donations for scholarships and fellowships as of June 30. On June 30, 2002, the University had received $33 million.

Douglas said the amount donated yearly for scholarships varies, but this year’s increase could be because of awareness of the University’s budget woes and the importance of scholarship and fellowship donations.

Douglas said no single scholarship or fellowship donation is comparable to the Bentsons’ donation.

University President Bob Bruininks said the Bentsons have signed a contract and the donation is official.

“It is an absolutely inspiring and awesome gift to the University,” Bruininks said.

Larry Bentson said he hopes to meet with the scholarship recipients regularly and start a graduate group known as the Bentson scholars.