Iowa State receives one of its largest donations ever

Equity stake in company worth an estimated $93 million

Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Beardshear Hall on the Iowa State University campus in Ames. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa State University announced Wednesday a first-of-its-kind gift to the campus worth about $93 million — making it among the largest donations in school history.

The gift to the ISU Foundation is an equity stake representing a majority ownership of Curriculum Associations LLC, an education company based in Billerica, Mass., whose founder is an ISU graduate.

“I don’t know when the first thought occurred,” said Frank E. Ferguson, now 90, about his decision to donate his share of the company to ISU. “But at some point it became clear to me and my wife that it indeed would be a meaningful thing for Iowa State and a plausible way for the company to be in good hands.”

Officials expect the equity to be sold through a management-led sale of the company. The sale will be to an independent buyer and ISU would play no role in managing the company, the university said.

ISU President Steven Leath during a news conference called the donation “one of the largest gifts in the history of this university,” though its final value will depend on market considerations at the time of the sale.

Proceeds will form a permanent endowed fund to benefit ISU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Initial investments will support the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication; the arts and humanities, including ISU’s theater program; and data science and computing programs.

Leath called the donation a “landmark moment in the history of Iowa State,” and said it will impact nearly every ISU student. Specifically, the gift will create more opportunities for students to pursue internships, study abroad, learn from distinguished scholars and explore “emerging fields, such as data science,” according to a news release.


“It will not only transform the college, it will transform the entire university and eventually this nation and this world,” Leath said. “A gift to this college is so fundamentally important, we just can’t say enough about it.”

Although ISU officials said the gift was being made anonymously, records show Ferguson founded the company in its most recent form.

In a phone interview, Ferguson confirmed making the donation, saying, “It’s a meaningful gift for Iowa State, and it solves an estate problem.”

Ferguson attended ISU from 1947 to 1950 and majored in science journalism, with a minor in education and psychology, according to a short biography on ISU’s website. He also was involved in the theater department, with stage credits including Moliere’s “Tartuffe” and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.”

Ferguson said his wife also attended ISU, as did his parents and son.

ISU Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Larissa Holtmyer Jones said the donors approached the university about six months ago. She said the type of gift they pitched “is a first for us.”

“We have accepted gifts like land and property,” she said. “But this is the first of an equity stake in a company.”

ISU officially became the company’s majority owner Dec. 31, Jones said. But the university won’t have any resources to spend until the company is sold.

Although the company’s executive team will lead the sale, Jones said, ISU’s foundation will be involved in ongoing dialogue during the process.


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Curriculum Associates, with a history dating to 1969, calls itself a “leader in the educational publishing and technology industry.”

It has more than quadrupled in size since 2012 and recently earned a spot among the fastest-growing private companies, according to Inc. 5000 and the Boston Business Journal.

The company’s print and digital products are used by more than 6 million students, representing nearly 20 percent of all K-8 students in public schools across the country, according to the news release.

Megan Landolt, ISU’s assistant to the president for communications, confirmed that the university’s King Air plane was used “to facilitate this gift,” but declined to release details.

The history of ISU’s two planes was the subject of a Board of Regents audit recently after Leath’s use of its smaller plane for personal business came under scrutiny. Leath, a pilot, promised to not fly the smaller plane any more and to use the larger two-pilot King Air more judiciously.

The donation will count toward ISU’s eight-year fundraising campaign, “Forever True, For Iowa State,” which aims to bring in $1.1 billion by July 2020.

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