W&M alumna steps forward with $1.5M challenge gift for women’s athletics scholarships

Gift made in honor of the university’s commitment to gender equity

As a demonstration of support for William & Mary’s commitment to gender equity in athletics, an anonymous alumna has stepped forward with a $1.5 million challenge gift for women’s athletics scholarships. The gift will further advance the university’s efforts to ensure gender balance and equity among its student-athletes.

The alumna, a William & Mary Foundation trustee, is challenging donors and other members of the community to match a portion of her gift by collectively raising $1 million each year over a three-year period. The university’s goal is to raise $250,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2022, $500,000 in FY23 and $750,000 in FY24 for women student-athlete scholarships.

“The pandemic has tested all of us, including on our ability to make tough decisions and to do what is necessary to overcome some of the greatest challenges we might experience in our lifetime. I made this gift in honor of President Rowe, both for her leadership of our university during an extremely challenging time and for her efforts to ensure its long-term success,” said the alumna.

“I am fully confident that her unwavering commitment to equity will elevate the experience for all athletes and enable the university to come out of this stronger and in a better place than ever before,” she added.

According to the Tribe 2025 strategic plan, the number of athletics scholarship equivalencies — or partial scholarships — William & Mary awards its student-athletes is far below the maximum NCAA level. Division I scholarship equivalencies are calculated by using the revenue distribution equivalencies by sport and in aggregate (athletic grant amount divided by the full grant amount).

In 2019, for example, the university awarded approximately 172 scholarship equivalencies to student-athletes. This was nearly 33 percent less than the allowable 258 scholarship equivalents permitted by the NCAA that year.

“This gift and all of the matching funds will put our women and men athletes on a more level playing field. I am so thankful to our beloved alumna for her visionary support as we navigate a more equitable path forward,” said President Rowe. “Scholarships are about opportunity. They make it possible for academically and athletically talented students from all backgrounds to thrive at William & Mary.”

In FY21, William & Mary Athletics expects to award $9.1 million in athletics scholarships. This challenge gift will significantly increase the opportunity afforded to women athletes in the coming years.

For many student-athletes, scholarships can be the difference between them pursuing their passions at William & Mary and not attending college at all or going to a peer institution that offers more robust scholarships packages.

The pandemic and the tough economic climate have magnified difficult financial situations many students and families are facing. Over the last few months, several student-athletes have reported that they are struggling with how they’ll afford to attend next semester or the following academic year.

“Nearly 20 percent of the William & Mary Athletics budget comes from contributions from donors. Every single gift, no matter the size, affords the opportunity for our incredible student-athletes to flourish here,” said Interim Director of Athletics Jeremy Martin Ph.D. ’12, M.B.A. ’17. “And we depend on each gift to make our student- athletes’ experiences possible.”

“W&M Athletics faces significant budget shortfalls. The donations upon which we depend to operate and the scholarships that we provide for our athletes are vital — this gift is vital,” added Martin.

The gift comes on the heels of William & Mary’s decision to reinstate three women’s varsity sports — Women’s Gymnastics, Women’s Swimming and Women’s Volleyball. In addition to outlining steps toward achieving gender equity within athletics to ensure Title IX compliance, last week’s announcement focused on the need for the university to chart a path to financial sustainability for all its sports programs. To that end, the athletics and advancement departments are further increasing fundraising efforts that will help address structural budget deficits and bolster scholarship support for student-athletes.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to support our incredible student-athletes and recognize we have further to go,” added Martin. “I am deeply grateful for our alumna’s gift and for enabling us to provide more scholarships for our women athletes.”

Editor's Note: Support women’s athletics scholarships and help meet the challenge. Visit giving.wm.edu.