Pritzker family pledges $10 million to Stanford University to maintain access for needy Chicago students

Stanford will use the gift to create a scholarship fund dedicated to supporting Chicago students with the greatest financial need.

The Pritzker family of Chicago, founders of the Hyatt hotel group, has pledged $10 million to Stanford University to help Chicago-area students attend the university. Stanford will use the gift to create a scholarship fund dedicated to supporting Chicago students with the greatest financial need.

The gift was made through the Pritzker Foundation, which is committed to improving the quality of life for residents of the Chicago region and to sustaining the vitality of the city. Members of the Pritzker family with ties to Stanford include Gigi Pritzker Pucker, who earned her undergraduate degree from Stanford in 1984; Penny Pritzker, a 1984 graduate of both Stanford Law School and the university's Graduate School of Business; and Nicholas Pritzker and Thomas Pritzker, both parents of Stanford students and graduates.

"We are extremely grateful for the Pritzker family's leadership and generosity," said Stanford President John Hennessy. "Stanford is committed to keeping its doors open for students from all walks of life, and this gift helps us reinforce that pledge – especially in this economy. The real effect of their investment, however, will be felt beyond Stanford and the students from the Chicago area who will benefit, as generations of Pritzker Scholars go on to become leaders in their communities and in the world."

Currently, one-third of the 90-plus undergraduate students from the Chicago region who receive need-based aid from Stanford are from families earning less than $60,000 a year – qualifying them for full support under the university's financial aid program. Beginning in the fall of 2010, the Pritzker Scholars Fund will help underwrite financial aid for these students and succeeding generations. It will be one of the university's largest endowed scholarship funds.

"Our family believes firmly in the transformative value of higher education," said Penny Pritzker, a Chicago business executive. "A scholarship is a powerful way to level the playing field for promising students with financial need. It's our way of giving back to the community by inspiring Chicago students to reach their highest potential."

Part of the reason the family chose to partner with Stanford is its deep commitment to need-blind admission and efforts to ensure that top-quality higher education is accessible and affordable to all capable students, Gigi Pritzker Pucker added.

Stanford's financial aid program is one of the most robust in higher education. Students from families earning less than $100,000 a year and with assets typical for their income level attend tuition-free. Parents making less than $60,000 are not expected to pay tuition or contribute to the costs of room, board and other educational expenses. Aid packages do not require students to take out loans, though students are still expected to help finance their education by contributing from earnings, savings or outside scholarships, if available.

The Pritzker gift is timely. As families struggle with the impact of the recession, the need for financial aid at Stanford is growing. Nearly half of Stanford undergraduates now depend on scholarships from the university, up from 40 percent prior to the recession. The university's financial aid budget has doubled in the last five years. At the same time, endowment losses have sharply reduced the university's financial aid resources. In fact, the university currently faces a significant shortfall between scholarship endowment funding and total student need.

The Pritzker Scholars Fund will help close that gap by providing an infusion of support to cover a portion of the financial aid typically awarded to needy students from Chicago. The gift represents a key commitment to the university's redoubled fundraising efforts for scholarships.

The university aims to raise $300 million in endowment funds for undergraduate scholarships as part of The Stanford Challenge, a five-year university-wide effort aimed at seeking solutions to complex global problems and educating tomorrow's leaders. The comprehensive campaign continues through 2011.

The Pritzker Foundation honors and recognizes the longstanding importance of Chicago to the family by supporting educational, scientific, medical and cultural activities. It has helped fund such diverse enterprises as the Frank Gehry–designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, the lobby of the new Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and the A. N. Pritzker Public Elementary School. Members of the Pritzker family have lived and worked in Chicago since 1881.

Elaine Ray, Stanford News Service: (650) 723-7162,