$10.7 million gift creates global center, expands resources for off-campus study
A transformative gift will advance financial aid for Oles studying off-campus and create a new center for global learning at St. Olaf College.
Louis and Mary Kay Smith have committed $10.7 million to endow the operations of St. Olaf’s international and off-campus studies office. Half will be given over the next five years; the remainder will be provided via their estate. In recognition of their gift, the international and off-campus studies office will become the Smith Center for Global Engagement.
When realized, the Smiths’ gift will fully cover the administrative fee each student pays now as part of their off-campus study program. This fee ranges from $100-$150 for Interim to $1,200 for semester- or year-long programs. Currently total program costs average from $2,796 (semester/year) to $4,545 (Interim) more than studying on campus. Any costs not covered by scholarship aid are paid by Oles out-of-pocket or by taking out loans.
“We are grateful for the generous support the Smiths have provided to increase access to off-campus study,” says President David R. Anderson ’74. “We want every Ole to have the chance to study off-campus. The Smiths’ generous gift, combined with the funding others have given, will help close the participation gap and ensure off-campus study remains a critical part of the St. Olaf experience.”
Increasing affordability for all
Funding provided by the Smiths and other donors will lower the portion students pay — currently endowed funds and annual gifts provide $1.07 million annually in aid, an increase of 47% from just five years ago. During the pandemic, this aid has accumulated as more than 120 programs were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.
With these accrued funds, and the Smiths’ commitment, the college will start removing the $1,200 semester fee for students with high financial need starting next fall, for high- and mid-need students in 2023-24, and for all students with any level of financial need in 2024-25. The semester and Interim fees will be fully covered for all studying off-campus regardless of need once the second half of the Smiths’ gift is realized.
For the time being, the college expects it can cover up to 50% of the Interim costs students pay by 2026.
It would be a shame if students couldn’t even think of studying abroad solely because they couldn’t afford it. The cost is a true barrier we want to remove — we hope more students will have a chance to share in these wonderful experiences.Mary Kay Smith
Global engagement is a critical part of St. Olaf’s mission — students are challenged to develop their knowledge, values, and capacities as part of a global community. Off-campus study integrates academic and experiential learning across language, culture, and place. It helps students foster their intercultural development, personal growth, adaptability, education, and career and vocational discernment.
Typically, on average 798 Oles study off-campus each year — approximately 74% receive scholarship aid.
“The scholarships we offer, supported by giving, help Oles extend their liberal arts learning in all parts of the world,” says Director of International and Off-Campus Studies Jodi Malmgren. “St. Olaf ranks consistently at the top of baccalaureate institutions by the number of students who study abroad, due in part to our commitment to scholarships and financial aid. It’s an experience that’s really life-changing for Oles and I am grateful to the Smiths for their gift.”
Sharing a love for living and learning abroad
The impact off-campus study provides, and their family’s own experiences abroad, inspired the Smiths to make their gift. Mary Kay audited lectures at Sorbonne University in Paris and traveled in Europe following her first year in college. Later, she and Louis lived and traveled in Europe during his Army assignment in France. They eventually lived abroad with their family for 12 more years for Louis’s work in London, Norway, and Saudi Arabia — work that during his career included negotiations with governments in more than 30 countries.
“Our experiences living abroad have influenced everything,” says Louis. “We love traveling to other parts of the world and meeting with people and learning and experiencing their customs and varied values. We wanted to create an environment that encourages others to have similar experiences.”
“I studied one summer in France as a result of a gift from my parents,” says Mary Kay. “That experience was formative — it made me braver and more willing to do new things. It would be a shame if students couldn’t even think of studying abroad solely because they couldn’t afford it. The cost is a true barrier we want to remove — we hope more students will have a chance to share in these wonderful experiences.”