Another Major Step Forward for the Freeing Minds Campaign: The Pritzker Challenge Grant for Campus Improvements

January 20, 2022 | By Les Poling

The Jay Pritzker Foundation has created a $25 million challenge grant aimed at bringing in $75 million over the next 10 years for campus improvements.

On January 20, St. John’s College Board of Visitors and Governors Chair Ron Fielding (A70), Vice Chair Leslie Jump (A84), and Campaign Chair Warren Spector (A81) announced a spectacular new gift to the college’s Freeing Minds capital campaign in an email to the college community: The Jay Pritzker Foundation has created a $25 million challenge grant aimed at bringing in $75 million over the next 10 years for campus improvements—a gigantic boost to the college’s continued growth and well-being.

St. John’s launched the Freeing Minds campaign in 2018, when the college was just beginning to work its way out of a very difficult situation. As Fielding, Jump, and Spector noted in their email, “We were running large operating deficits, enrollment was declining, and we lacked a vision as to how to solve the many problems we faced.”

Board and college leaders launched the Freeing Minds campaign believing that, when coupled with other critical initiatives, it would enable the college to achieve a balanced budget, reverse the enrollment decline, and, more audaciously, significantly reduce the college’s reliance on tuition revenue.

The community responded with extraordinary generosity. Thanks to this outpouring of support, the college has been able to achieve its goals and now operates from a position of great strength—with a balanced budget, tuition that is more than 30 percent lower than that of a decade ago, significantly higher enrollment, and a fast-growing endowment that is now over $245 million and headed much higher as committed gifts come in.

Such successes, the board noted, are astonishing. Nevertheless, Fielding, Jump, and Spector wrote, “At our November board meeting we collectively worried that as successful as our campaign has been, we still would not have sufficient funds to bring our facilities up to a reasonable standard.” Questions lingered about how to raise the money needed to perform very significant campus improvements—and that’s where the Jay Pritzker Foundation came in.

Following discussions at the board meeting, Karen Pritzker, a member of the St. John’s College board and the parent of an alum, asked collegewide President Mark Roosevelt how much funding St. John’s needed to pursue necessary campus improvements over the next decade. “Around $75 million,” he told her.

Pritzker responded by issuing a challenge grant from the Jay Pritzker Foundation pledging $25 million, or $2.5 million a year, for the next decade to the Campus Improvement Fund—provided that the college matches every $1 from the foundation with an additional $2.

Following Pritzker’s announcement, board leaders responded by taking responsibility for the first $25 million in matching funds. Due to these commitments, campus leadership has already begun planning for the much-needed renovation of the Peterson Student Center in Santa Fe and several dormitories on the Annapolis campus.

The college has never been known, and never wanted to be known, for having fancy facilities. But over recent decades many buildings on each campus have deteriorated substantially. The Pritzker Challenge means that the college will be able to address these deficiencies, ensuring that we can provide comfortable and appropriate facilities in which new generations of students can continue to be transformed by the Program.

On a broader level, the Pritzker Challenge is indicative of the collective vision and dedication of the greater St. John’s community. As Fielding, Jump, and Spector wrote in their letter announcing the challenge grant: “It is stunning to reflect on how far we have traveled together. From precarious to secure, from problems going unattended to addressing multiple issues with spirit, resolve, and newly committed resources.”

The three then turned their attention to the future: “When you help us pass this next test of our commitment to St. John’s by contributing to the Pritzker Challenge, you can do so with the assurance that when we achieve our goal and close the Freeing Minds campaign at the end of June 2023, the college will be in the strongest financial condition it has ever been in. We will have guaranteed that the Program that is the center of the college will be accessible for many more generations of aspirational students.”

Join us in celebrating this new step in our Freeing Minds journey!

If you are interested in being a part of the Pritzker Challenge, contact our development team at development(at) or click here to make your gift online.