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Centre College — a school once in line to receive one of the largest gifts in the history of U.S. higher education — on Monday announced a $20 million gift as part of a $200 million fundraising campaign.
The ultimate goal of the multi-year campaign is to raise an amount in the same neighborhood as the single donation officials thought the school was receiving in 2013 — $250 million — but ultimately lost out on.
The $20 million gift by an anonymous donor will help create a new full-ride-plus scholarship program, according to the nearly 1,400-student liberal arts college in Danville, Kentucky.
It's the lead gift for the $40 million Lincoln Scholars Program that will support 40 students by fall 2019.
The school — which gained national attention for hosting vice presidential debates in 2000 and 2012 — raised $116.5 million during the silent phase of its fundraising campaign, said Richard Trollinger, the school's vice president for college relations.
The school on Monday kicked off the public phase of the campaign set to end in early 2019 — the 200th anniversary of the school's founding.
Centre officials once thought they had snared the $250 million donation as the campaign's lead gift. The school was in line to receive the all-stock gift from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust, but it later was withdrawn.
"That set us back a bit, as you would imagine," Trollinger said Monday in a phone interview. "But it also gave us an opportunity to say to the rest of our constituency, 'Well, that didn't work out, so now we need everybody else to step up.' And they have responded just marvelously."
The massive donation was withdrawn due to business reasons, Trollinger said.
Losing out on a gift equaling a huge lottery jackpot was a "huge disappointment," but "life goes on," he said. "Certainly this institution goes on."
School officials are optimistic about exceeding the $200 million goal by the end of the campaign, he said.
As fundraising continues, the school said it hopes to put $130 million into scholarships and financial aid. The costs of tuition, fees and room and board at Centre total $46,440 in the current academic year.
Another $35 million would go for faculty and academic support, and $25 million would be used for campus projects, including renovating residence halls, the school said.
Meanwhile, the school doesn't intend to compete for a presidential or vice presidential debate in 2016, Trollinger said.
"We simply couldn't run this campaign for new endowment funds if we were also organizing a debate," he said.