Estate Planning

Have you ever wondered how it’s possible for a college to provide a high-quality education to over 1,600 students without charging tuition? How it pays its professors and staff, funds its programs, or even keeps the lights on?

Amy Shehee
Amy Shehee

Certainly, anyone starting a college today using such a business model would be cautioned against it as an impossible, idealistic undertaking.

Yet that’s exactly what Berea has been doing for generations. And doing it well.

How has Berea made the impossible a reality?  Very simply. Through the generosity of supporters who have included Berea in their estate plans. Berea as we know it—a liberal arts college that provides full-tuition scholarships to all its students—would not exist without the estate gifts it has received from alumni and friends over its nearly 160 year history.

Supporters who ultimately give to Berea through an estate gift help Berea in the most fundamental and critical way. They enable the college to do what would otherwise be impossible for those bright students with limited finances who need it most:  provide educational opportunity and access without the burden of tuition.

While other colleges and universities receive estate gifts just like Berea, the reason they make such a difference here is due to pivotal decisions reached in Berea’s early years of operation.

In 1893 the College received a $6,000 estate gift that enabled Berea to keep its doors open during some very difficult financial times. Reflecting on this significant bequest, then Berea President William Goodell Frost stated: “That money was used to live upon. From that good time we have never been obliged to eat our bequests. All the bequests since then have gone into permanent things” (College address, April 14, 1915).

The practice of using estate gifts for “permanent things” became policy in 1920 with a resolution of Berea’s Board of Trustees unprecedented in higher education—all estate gifts that were not designated for a particular purpose would be added to the College’s endowment. This policy remains in effect today.

This policy, coupled with the estate gifts provided by alumni and friends, has enabled Berea’s endowment to grow. And that is how Berea has made the impossible possible. In lieu of tuition, annual income from the endowment provides roughly 75% of Berea’s operational expenses, enabling the college to offer full-tuition scholarships to all of its students.

Many are surprised to learn about Berea’s unique funding model, but they are even more surprised to learn about those wonderful supporters who make it possible. Some assume that only the wealthiest donors or those without children make such gifts, when in fact most come from average individuals whose primary estate planning goal is to provide for their loved ones. Others hold the common misconception that only the largest estate gifts make a difference, when in reality Berea has benefitted from relatively modest gifts from a broad base of individuals.

Another common misconception is that an estate gift to Berea is a complex process that necessarily involves lawyers and legal fees. While some of the estate gifts to Berea do come in the form of a bequest provision through a will or trust, others are in the form of a life insurance policy, IRA, 401K or savings account and only require the completion and submittal of a form naming Berea a beneficiary or partial beneficiary.

Regardless of the way or means, we are grateful to all those who have included Berea in their estate plans, past and present, young and “young at heart.” (currently the youngest individual is a recent graduate, and the youngest at heart are centennials.)

We’re so grateful, in fact, a legacy wall on campus—the only one of its kind in the country—lists every individual who honored Berea in this very meaningful way. Because of these individuals, Berea can make the impossible possible for generations of students to come. And their legacies will live on in the aspirations and achievements of Berea’s students.

Remember, if Berea is in your estate plans but you’ve never let us know, please consider doing so. We’d love to welcome you into our Great Commitments Society.

And if you’d like to explore the possibility of leaving an estate gift to Berea, contact me at 800-457-9846 ext. 3002 or via email at There’s never any pressure and we’d love to have you join the ranks of the women and men who have helped make the impossible a reality at Berea.

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