US college dropout returns to donate $27m

(NYTIMES) – With no way of paying tuition, Mr Calvin Tyler dropped out of college in his home town, Baltimore, in 1963 before becoming a truck driver for UPS.

He was quickly promoted into management and ultimately worked his way into the company’s executive suite, serving as its senior vice-president for US operations as well as a director.

Nearly 60 years after he was forced to abandon his schooling, Mr Tyler and his wife, Tina, have pledged US$20 million (S$26.8 million) to endow scholarships for financially needy students at the college he left, now known as Morgan State University.

In making the announcement this past week, officials said they believe the gift is the largest a former student has ever made to a historically black university.

“I want to provide scholarships for young bright people so that they can graduate, get their degrees, and come out of college debt-free,” he said.

The burden of loans is particularly severe among black students at four-year colleges, with research suggesting they are more likely to borrow than their white peers, owing an average of US$7,400 more when they graduate.

Mr David Wilson, president of Morgan State, said: “Calvin knew that heavy student loan debt is crippling too many first-generation college students. They are doing their part to try and minimise that.”

He added that the gift would fund financially needy students who also exhibited the grit and determination to succeed – a quality he said was partially responsible for Mr Tyler’s ascent through the corporate ranks.

Mr Tyler, now 78, enrolled at what was then called Morgan State College in 1961, studying business administration and accounting and dreaming of becoming the first in his family to receive a college degree.

But he did not have a scholarship and his parents could not afford to help pay tuition – his father worked for the telephone company. So he had to pay his own way.

“Because of finances I had to leave school and go to work,” he said. He applied for a job at UPS partly because the company advertised that it promoted from within its ranks.

About two years after becoming a driver, he was moved into a management job, he said, ultimately living in eight cities for the company and moving upwards until his retirement 34 years later, in 1998.

“Fortunately, UPS saw that I had the potential to take on bigger and bigger jobs. I was always willing with my wife to move out of our comfort zone,” he said. “That’s the type of person I am – I wasn’t afraid to take a chance.”

His wife was successful in real estate but repeatedly had to rebuild her career in new cities when the family uprooted, he said.

When he looks at students struggling to fulfil their college dreams, including those who are saddled with loans when they graduate, it reminds him of his own predicament. So reducing the burden of student debt, which he called “way out of whack in this country”, is one of the primary goals of his scholarship.

The Tylers have long been among the university’s primary benefactors, and the US$20 million pledge represents a US$15 million increase from US$5 million the couple had pledged to scholarships beginning 15 years ago.

The Calvin and Tina Tyler Endowed Scholarship Fund has already helped 222 Morgan State students, providing 46 full scholarships and 176 partial scholarships.

Morgan State, founded in 1867 to train Methodist Episcopal clergy, is now a public university with enrolment of about 7,600 students.

The university was also the recent beneficiary of a US$40 million gift from Ms MacKenzie Scott, an author who was formerly married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The donation was part of more than US$400 million in gifts by Ms Scott last year to colleges and universities, including those primarily serving black and Hispanic students.

Mr Tyler, looking back, says that even though he did not finish school, he was helped by everything he learnt at Morgan State.

“That’s the way I feel about education, period,” he said.

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