Philanthropists Peter and Paula Lunder have given Maine College of Art $3 million to help pay the tuition of Maine students and help the college plan for its future. The gift from the Lunder Foundation, which MECA plans to announce Tuesday, includes $2.5 million for the existing Lunder Scholars program at MECA and $500,000 toward the college’s strategic plan.

It’s the largest gift MECA has received for financial aid, said President Laura Freid, and “secures the promise of equal opportunity for all students. The immediate impact is that it will encourage more students of low- and middle-income families to apply.”

The Lunder gift is a challenge match. If the college meets its fundraising goals, the gift could add up to $6 million, including $5 million for additional student aid and $1 million for college operations. The promise of the gift holds the potential to be transformative for MECA, Freid said. The college endowment is currently about $8 million, “and a gift that could add $5 million to that is a pretty significant gift,” she said.

Though smaller in scale and narrower in scope than the $1.8 billion that businessman and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last week donated to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, the Lunder gift represents a similar goal of making college affordable for low- and moderate-income students “to ensure they do not graduate with a burden of significant student debt,” said Matt Goetting, MECA’s vice president of institutional advancement. “Reducing the student debt burden that so many young people have as they move into their lives nowadays seems to be the issue that everybody is talking about nationwide.”

The Portland-based Lunder Foundation previously gave MECA more than $1 million for financial aid to establish the Lunder Scholars program, which has provided need-based aid to more than 100 undergraduates from Maine since its inception in 2002. About 25 percent of MECA’s 500 undergraduate students are from Maine. The Lunder gift will allow the school to pay a larger portion of students’ tuition, increase the number of students it recruits from Maine or both, Goetting said.

MECA currently charges $35,000 annually for tuition. On average, it provides $16,000 in scholarship support to each student annually, bringing the effective tuition down to $19,000. Freid said the college provides some kind of financial assistance to all of its undergraduate students, and the school awards more than $7 million annually in scholarships, grants and other forms of financial assistance.

In addition to its 500 undergraduate students, MECA has about 40 master’s of fine arts students and 1,500 continuing education students. The most popular undergraduate programs are animation, illustration and design.

Freid began as MECA president in July 2017 and met the Lunders soon after at a dinner arranged by a MECA board member intended to introduce Freid to the community. Peter Lunder later gave Freid a tour of the Colby College Museum of Art, which the Lunders have supported with the gift of money and art. “We began talking about the importance of financial aid about a year ago,” Freid said, and “met many times over the year” in ongoing conversations about ways the Lunder Foundation could most effectively help MECA and its students. She said the gift of money for financial aid “is the most important investment any donor can make to a college education. It secures the promise of equal opportunities for all students.”

Goetting said the college will begin the legwork of the strategic planning process right away. The strategic plan will address several areas of priority, including a comprehensive fundraising campaign that will include the match for the Lunder gift.

In a statement, Peter Lunder said: “We are pleased to support MECA’s efforts to make higher education accessible to students regardless of their financial situation through this new gift to the Lunder Scholars fund. Offering opportunity to a wide spectrum of students who bring both academic and artistic strengths and diverse cultural perspectives is central to our mission.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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