As the first in his family to go to college, Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg drove a bus and worked on a road crew to pay his tuition bills.
On Wednesday, Rosenberg and his wife Rosalie announced a $1 million donation toward scholarships for first-generation college students so they won’t have to work quite as hard.
“I identify with our students,” Rosenberg said. “Neither of my parents had a college degree. They both believed deeply in education.”
At FIU, 53 percent of undergraduates are the first in their families to go to college. Almost all — 90 percent — rely on financial aid to pay for tuition.
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“I have the privilege of working with FIU students since 1976,” Rosenberg said. “The quality that I admire most is their determination to succeed against all odds.”
Rosenberg said his parents insisted that their four children go to college, something they were never able to do themselves. Rosenberg said his father was busy serving in the army during World War II, fighting in the D-Day invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. His mother was held in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during what should have been her college-going years. The two met after Rosenberg’s father helped liberate the camp.
Rosenberg’s donation is the largest gift given by an FIU president to the university. Hired in 2009, his net worth is $5.8 million, according to his most recent financial disclosure filed with the state.
His donation was made to launch this year’s Ignite Campaign, which asks university staff and faculty to give back. So far, 23 percent of employees have donated almost $230,000.
Rosenberg said: “There is more to do when it comes to fundraising.”
The university launched a campaign with a $750 million goal in 2010. Rosenberg said $310 million has been raised in an effort set to end in 2020.
“It has been a process. In part because we’re a public institution, there’s a sense that because we have public support, the private support is not so important,” Rosenberg said. “We’re very grateful to all of our donors but I have high expectations for myself. I want to find a way to accelerate the support for FIU, and I have to do my part.”