Never Stop Driving #59: One billion dollars

McPherson College

A billion dollars validated my faith in humanity. That sum was anonymously donated to McPherson College, a small school in Kansas that offers a four-year degree in automotive restoration. There’s so much to celebrate here.

Some 20 years ago, the school upgraded its restoration program from a two-year associates degree to a four-year bachelors. Students learn hands-on automotive skills but also round out their educations with traditional liberal-arts courses. The program has been a huge success and we most recently profiled it last year. Hagerty routinely hires McPherson graduates, including Hagerty Media’s own Kyle Smith, and we directly and indirectly support the McPherson advisory board. McKeel Hagerty, Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter, and Dave Kinney, the publisher of the Hagerty Price Guide, all serve on the board.

McPherson College

If only McPherson’s program had been around when I went to college in 1988. I was good at math, tinkered a bunch, and loved cars, so engineering was a natural path, but I hated my coursework at Lehigh University, alma mater of Roger Penske and Lee Iacocca. Looking back, I’m still shocked by how few of the engineering students knew which end of a screwdriver to hold. The division between white- and blue-collar work—four-year students didn’t get their hands dirty—was in full force back then, a huge mistake. McPherson seems to have recognized how hand work complements head work, a topic we discussed at length in our book Never Stop Driving (also in audio form).

Bravo, McPherson. The school also bucks another trend by avoiding exorbitant tuition fees. College prices are maddeningly like cars—there’s the window sticker and then what people actually pay—so direct comparisons are tricky. According to U.S. News and World Report, however, McPherson charges well below the national average.

My favorite part of McPherson’s billion-dollar windfall is that the dough went to where it’s needed. As journalist and provocateur Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in this podcast, the vast majority of gifts $100 million and up go to schools like Harvard or Princeton that already have massive endowments—Harvard’s is some $51 billion. Gladwell argued, correctly, that the vast majority of educational philanthropy goes to putting names on buildings on campuses already flush. Thanks to this anonymous gift, along with the $500M it raised as part of a match campaign, McPherson’s endowment is now enriched by $1.5 billion. Sometimes, the right things happen.

McPherson College

This is a week of good news. We have a review of the new 2024 Mustang by the gifted Aaron Robinson. Both the Camaro and the Challenger end production this year yet the ’Stang soldiers on, better than ever. Porsche owners can now immortalize their cars by replicating car paint colors indoors. One of my favorite cars is for sale on the Hagerty Marketplace: a 2005 Ford GT.

Finally, many car fans head to Monterey, California, next month for a week of cars shows, vintage racing, and hanging with our people. We host a fantastic kick-off party called Motorlux and Hagerty Drivers Club members enjoy discounted tickets. Get yours here. I hope to see you.

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    Really encouraging news about the gift to McPherson College. An organization to which I belong grants some funds to students participating in body & paint, welding and mechanics at local trade schools, but it is pretty minimal compared to a billion bucks – however, we feel that every little bit helps and we’re doing our part. I’d like to plant the idea to all groups out there (car clubs, etc.) to consider figuring out ways to help ensure the future of our automotive enthusiasm. Maybe we can’t all give large cash donations, but help where we can!

    Glad to see such a large sum go to an actual productive college program. Our CPA-PCA Porsche club funds two scholarships at a local college with an automotive program.

    Larry, great job describing the gift to McPherson. I too wish I knew about McPherson when I headed off to school. Although I ended up in a small school in central Ohio where we were taught to “think with our hands”. Don’t just educate the head but educate the hands as well. So brilliantly described by you.

    Don’t forget that many universities have a SAE club and some of the clubs build Formula SAE cars that actually compete against each other including driving competition.

    Absolutely and those clubs are hugely useful. On the other hand, competing in Formula SAE is almost like having a full-time job and is usually above and beyond required coursework. I did a piece on the University of Michigan Solar team, which is impressive, and the kids there had a saying, “You can get good grades, do the solar team, or have a social life. Pick two.”

    I was very fortunate to be accepted into the engineering school at what was then General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, in Flint, MI. This school has a four year co-op program that provides a very hands-on experience during one’s college years. The co-op work provides not only good experience, but also a means of earning some money to cover expenses. I left the school with no student debt. Many industry leaders came out of this program, including Mary Barra, the current CEO of General Motors.

    I was pleased to learn of the endowment that McPherson will be receiving and look forward to the improvements in their restoration program. I have committed to an endowment (much smaller) to Kettering University from my estate.

    Totally agree with Larry’s sentiment over the anonymous $1B donation. Excited to see the school getting the exposure it has earned and also what it will do next with the injection of funds.

    Wonderful news and a true public service on your part. I totally agree with your comments on gifting going to wrong colleges. Schools with large endowments that still charge tuition amounts to immoral hubris on the part of administrators at those institutions. I was Dir of scholarships ans fin aid at two large universities and will get the word out on this school.

    This is excellent. Wish I had known/explored this school when I went to my auto tech program. Might have stayed in the business… It’d be interesting to see the demographic breakdown of folks that go into and come out of a place like McPherson: number of young folks looking to get into something more analog than Tech and number of older folks going back for a career/hobby change.

    In the 50’s and 60’s we had the Military-Industrial Complex. In the 00’s and ’10’s we got the Educational-Industrial Complex.
    While I studied at an in-state public university, my daughter attended a highly-regarded private STEM school. I had absolutely no idea what a racket the college admissions process has become….not to mention the meteoric rise in tuition, as well as the aforementioned schools with massive endowments that could easily cover 100% of the cost of tuition for their students in need.
    Just seems incongruous for a supposedly sophisticated society to eat its young as we do by saddling recent college graduates with so much debt.

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