The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School announced its largest gift ever from an individual today (May 12). The $11 million contribution was made by UNC graduate Steve Bell and his wife Jackie and will go directly to the support of a new business school building that will allow the school to grow the undergraduate business program by at least 50%, according to an announcement from the school.
The gift is part of a five-year campaign that has an ambitious goal of raising $4.25 billion. Launched in October 2017, the goal is to reach that mark by the end of 2022.
“This gift from Steve and Jackie Bell is an investment in our students, in our communities, and in the economic growth of North Carolina,” Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said in the school’s announcement. “Their leadership, vision, and generous support enables UNC Kenan-Flagler to continue fulfilling its critical mission to provide an outstanding business education to our undergraduate and graduate students.”
ABOUT 50% OF STUDENTS WERE ACCEPTED INTO THE KENAN-FLAGLER BUSINESS SCHOOL LAST YEAR
Business students at the University of North Carolina first apply to enter the university while in high school. As college sophomores, students then re-apply for entrance into the two-year Kenan-Flagler program. During the 2019 academic year, 733 UNC sophomores applied to enter Kenan-Flagler and only 362 were accepted, for an acceptance rate of about 49.4%. All 362 students that were accepted enrolled at the school, according to school data sent to Poets&Quants last fall.
In 1997, when the business school moved from Carroll Hall to the McColl Building, the growth of the programs outpaced the building, the school says. This year, the announcement says, the undergraduate program has maxed out the number of students it can enroll “while maintaining the quality of the program, due to space constraints.”
Besides growing the undergraduate program by at least 50%, the school says it will also “alleviate other space challenges” for students in the MBA, master’s of accounting, and Ph.D. programs.
“There is never enough money to address all of the needs in our state, and this is even more true in the current economic downturn, but now is the time to plan for our future,” Steve Bell said in the school’s release. “A building expansion is needed now, not 15 to 20 years down the road.”
THE GIFT WILL ‘CREATE AN ENDURING LEGACY,’ DEAN DOUG SHACKELFORD SAYS
A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, Bell decided he would build a career in real estate as a history major at UNC. After graduating in 1967, Bell spent nine years working in mortgage banking and commercial real estate brokerages before founding his own company — Bell Partners, based in Greensboro, North Carolina — in 1976. Bell began with just eight properties and 21 employees and has now grown his business to include more than 60,000 apartments, about 1,500 associates, and nine offices spread out across the country. Since 2002, Bell Partners has completed more than $16 billion in apartment transactions.
“The Bells’ gift will create an enduring legacy,” Doug Shackelford ’80, dean and Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation at UNC Kenan-Flagler said in the school’s release. “It is fitting that it both shares and advances the state’s business needs by preparing graduates to be extraordinary leaders who contribute to the organizations and communities where they work and live.”
In the fall of 2019, Kenan-Flagler had 667 business majors enrolled in its two-year program. The plan to expand the program would make it one of the larger programs among top undergraduate business schools in the U.S. According to the school, that would be a direct impact on North Carolina’s growing population. Some 70% of graduates from Kenan-Flagler’s undergraduate program either stay in state or eventually return to North Carolina, the school says.
Bell already gifted an initial $1 million investment to help start the $4.25 billion capital project in 2017. He has also served on the Kenan-Flagler board of advisors and has helped in various aspects of the school’s real estate program.
“This is my most meaningful gift to our great state,” Bell said in the release. “I love our Tar Heel state, and I am proud to help Carolina with a gift that will make North Carolina better, make the economy better and make how we live better.”