With no way to pay tuition, Calvin E. Tyler Jr. dropped out of college in his hometown of Baltimore in 1963 before becoming a truck driver for UPS.
He was quickly promoted to management and eventually made his way into the company’s executive suite, as Senior Vice President of US Operations as well as Director.
Almost 60 years after being forced to drop out of school, Mr Tyler and his wife, Tina Tyler, pledged $ 20 million to endow scholarships for financially needy students at the college he left, now known as Morgan State University.
Making the announcement this week, officials said the gift was the most important a former student has ever given to a historically black university.
“I want to provide scholarships for bright young people so that they can graduate, graduate and come out of college debt free,” Tyler said in an interview. “Going to college for four years and getting a degree and at the same time having debt of $ 80,000 to $ 100,000 puts the person behind.”
The loan burden is especially heavy among black four-year college students, with research suggesting they are more likely to borrow for school than their white peers, averaging $ 7,400 more when they graduate.
The couple’s philanthropy also comes as the long-term cost of college becomes a major issue in Washington. President Biden has proposed expanding the federal Pell Grants for low-income students and forgiving $ 10,000 in federal debt per student, with progressives in the Democratic Party pushing for more generous loan forgiveness programs.
David K. Wilson, president of Morgan State, said the Tylers were in part motivated by the realization that the coronavirus pandemic had exacerbated long-standing financial challenges for historically black colleges and their students.
“Calvin knew that high student loan debt cripples too many first-generation students,” said Dr. Wilson. “The Tylers are doing their part to try to minimize this.” He added that the donation would fund financially needy students who also showed courage and determination to succeed – a quality which he said was partly responsible for Mr. Tyler’s rise through the corporate ranks. .
Mr Tyler, now 78, enrolled in what was then Morgan State College in 1961, studying business administration and accounting and dreaming of becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. .
But he did not have a scholarship and his parents could not afford the tuition fees – his father worked for the telephone company. So he had to pay his own way.
“Because of finances, I had to quit school and go to work,” said Tyler. He applied for a job at UPS in part because the company announced it had promoted from its ranks.
About two years after becoming a driver, he transferred to a managerial position, he said, eventually living in eight cities for the company and progressing to his retirement 34 years later, in 1998.
“Fortunately, UPS saw that I had the potential to take on bigger and bigger jobs. I was always ready with my wife to step out of our comfort zone, ”he said. “That’s the kind of person I am – I wasn’t afraid to take a chance.”
Tina Tyler was successful in real estate, but had to repeatedly rebuild her career in new cities when the family uprooted, he said.
He now sees himself when he watches students struggling to achieve their college dreams, including those struggling with loans when they graduate. Mr Tyler said reducing the burden of student debt, which he described as “unbalanced in this country”, was one of the main goals of his scholarship.
The Tylers have long been a major benefactor of the university, and the $ 20 million pledge is an increase of $ 15 million from the $ 5 million the couple pledged to provide in scholarships. studies 15 years ago.
The Calvin and Tina Tyler Scholarship Fund has already assisted 222 students in Morgan State, offering 46 full scholarships and 176 partial scholarships.
Dr Wilson said the couple, who now live in the San Francisco Bay Area and Las Vegas, informed him in January of their plans to increase the endowment to $ 20 million and expand the scholarship eligibility for students from outside the Baltimore area.
“I dropped the phone,” he says.
Scholarships differ from many others in that students with relatively low averages are eligible.
“We concluded that the academic criteria for this scholarship should be 2.5 – not 3.8, not 4.0 – because we did not want to place the scholarship in the hands of only a few selected students,” said Dr Wilson.
Morgan State, originally founded in 1867 to train Methodist Episcopal clergy, is now a public university with an enrollment of approximately 7,600 students.
The university also recently received a donation of $ 40 million from MacKenzie Scott, an author who was once married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The donation was part of more than $ 400 million in donations by Ms. Scott last year to colleges and universities, including those that primarily serve black and Hispanic students.
Mr Tyler, looking back, says that even though he didn’t finish his studies, he was helped by everything he learned at Morgan State.
“That’s how I feel about education, period,” he says.