3 Billionaires Whose Donations Are Providing Accessible Education

Billionaires like Dr. Ruth Gottesman, Robert F. Smith, and Ken Langone showcase the power of using one’s wealth to better the lives of others through education. 

Billionaires have made generous contributions to schools throughout history, from providing funds for infrastructure projects to supporting scholarships for students in need. These acts show just how much positive change an individual can create when they use their wealth for meaningful endeavors whose ripple effects will continue to affect future generations for the better.  

Billionaires have the power to help hundreds of students achieve their dreams without financial burdens
Billionaires have the power to help hundreds of students achieve their dreams without financial burdens/Photo by Charles DeLoye via Unsplash

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Some affluent individuals have even given hundreds of students access to tuition-free, quality education. In many parts of the world, this is always a significant gesture. America, in particular, is well-known for its high tuition rates and steep student debts—which is precisely why such acts of philanthropy are so powerful. Below are three billionaires who are funding quality education for the youth: 

Dr. Ruth Gottesman

In February 2024, Dr. Ruth Gottesman donated an impressive $1 billion to the New York-based Albert Einstein College of Medicine, according to Joseph Goldstein of The New York Times. The reason? Gottesman wants to start making the college tuition-free. It’s hard not to get emotional seeing the video where the 93-year-old announces this momentous change, with students cheering and teary-eyed at the news of receiving free education. This paves the way for hundreds of thousands of future doctors, nurses, educators, and scientists in the country who will pay it forward by changing lives as well. 

Dr. Ruth Gottesman
Dr. Ruth Gottesman/Photo from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine website

Gottesman is the widow of Wall Street financier David “Sandy” Gottesman, who worked closely with his good friend Warren Buffet and was one of the first investors of Berkshire Hathaway. He’s also the founder of the investment firm First Manhattan Co., and by the time of his passing in 2022, he had amassed a net worth of $3 billion, according to Forbes

Dr. Gottesman continues her and her late husband’s legacy of philanthropy with the $1 billion donation to a school of personal significance to her. She’s not only a chair in the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Board of Trustees, but also a Clinical Professor Emerita of Pediatrics (Developmental Medicine), according to the college’s official website

Together with her husband, Dr. Gottesman established The Gottesman Fund, which has aided a variety of organizations over the years. Besides making a recent donation to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the foundation also gave a $6.5 million gift to fund a library at Gottesman’s alma mater, Teachers College in Columbia University in 2002. 

Kenneth Langone

Gottesman isn’t the only American billionaire who’s given more medical students the chance to pursue a quality education. There’s also Kenneth Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, whose $100 million donation ensured students at New York University’s medical school got free tuition in 2018, reports Berkeley Lovelace Jr. of CNBC

NYU students can still feel the ripple effect of this act today, as the institution’s official website writes: “NYU Grossman School of Medicine is proud to award all students enrolled in our MD degree program Full-Tuition Scholarships as part of our tuition-free initiative, so that any student can pursue the dream of becoming a physician without the burden of overwhelming student debt.” 

Kenneth Langone
Kenneth Langone/Photo from the Center for Strategic & International Studies website

As of March 3, 2024, Langone is the 281st richest man in the world, with a net worth of $8.9 billion. His other philanthropic efforts include a $200 million donation to New York University’s hospital, as well as support for other organizations like Harlem Children’s Zone and The Animal Medical Center, as the Philanthropy Roundtable reveals in an interview with the entrepreneur. Langone’s dedication to helping students traces back to his days as a student at Bucknell University, where a $300 loan helped him finish his last semester—something that he never forgot. 

“Because that was the key to the door that let me go beyond that point. If I hadn’t had it, who knows what would have happened?” he intimates in the Philanthropy Roundtable interview. “About 35 years ago my wife and I began to get serious about philanthropy in many areas. We realized how good fortune had shined down on us and we felt like this was something we should do.”

Robert F. Smith

When billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith, received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Morehouse in 2019, he also covered the debts of students in his graduating class. The tycoon pledged $34 million, according to the university’s official website, and even expanded his plan by covering the accumulated debts of the family members of these Morehouse graduates. He also allotted $1.5 million in 2019 to fund endowed scholarships and a park for outdoor education. 

Robert F. Smith
Robert F. Smith/Photo from the Robert F. Smith Philanthropy website

Yet this wasn’t the end of Smith’s endeavors to support students, especially those from minority groups. The Fund II Foundation, a nonprofit organization that Smith is founding director and president of, also gave an initial $50 million to start the Student Freedom Initiative. The program aims to provide “an income-contingent education finance alternative” to qualified students in STEM from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), according to Morehouse’s official website. It’s not a tuition-free plan, but rather, a program that helps minimize the burden of student debt. Graduates will only be asked to make payments for a maximum of 20 years, and such payments are based on the income that they make. The university will then recycle these payments to help future batches of students in the next years, resulting in a cycle of good-will. 

Robert F. Smith is the 262nd richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with an estimated net worth of $9.2 billion. The investor has made it a personal mission to address racial and economic inequalities, as well as preserve Black American heritage and history, through his education-based initiatives for HBCU schools across the United States. 

Banner photo from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine website.

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