A Michigan couple is contributing millions to support their commitment to changing lives through education.

Bob and Ellen Thompson believe that education can make a significant difference in everyone’s life. Their latest gift of $52 million is to support Thompson Working Families Scholarships. The Thompsons already have contributed $33 million to the scholarship program and with this additional $52 million over 5,200 students will receive support.

This investment will be spit among four universities, including Bowling Green State University. Twenty seven million will go to BGSU.

In 2011, the Thompsons established the Working Families Scholarship Program at BGSU. It was Ellen’s idea to help what she termed as “working families.” She realized from working with universities, there appeared to be a gap in financial support for students. She saw that students whose parents had adequate financial resources did not need help. And that students who came from very limited means had many opportunities for scholarships. But students from working families, of limited means, had little or no outside financial support. So, with Ellen’s encouragement this is how it started. The foundation’s CEO John Cleary started working with what is now four universities - BGSU, Saginaw Valley State University, Grand Valley State University, and Michigan Technological University.

More than 1,090 BGSU students have received Thompson scholarships, with funding totaling $6.5 million for Working Families Scholarships and $10.4 million for President’s Leadership Academy Scholarships.

In 2020, BGSU received the largest gift in its history from the Thompsons to expand the Thompson Working Families Scholarship and their other scholarship programs at the university. The $27 million gift provides thousands of future students with greater access to a BGSU education through scholarships that support those from working families, military backgrounds and high-potential students who have significant financial need. This transformational commitment from Bob and Ellen Thompson also makes them the university’s largest and most generous philanthropists to date with lifetime giving now totaling $46.9 million. Both Bob and Ellen Thompson hold honorary doctorates from BGSU.

“We are exceptionally grateful for the continued generosity of alumni Bob and Ellen Thompson, who have been incredible supporters of BGSU for decades,” said BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers. “They have made an immeasurable impact on hundreds of BGSU students, and with this unprecedented gift, we will be positioned to ensure a BGSU education is accessible and affordable for many deserving students.”

“Due to the immense financial support the Thompson Scholarship awarded me, my financial stress was alleviated which allowed me to focus on my studies and extracurricular involvements during my undergraduate career,” said Estee Miller, BGSU student and Thompson scholarship recipient through the Thompson Working Family Achievement Scholarship program. “Bob and Ellen’s belief and confidence in students like myself is so humbling, and I am very grateful that they recognize the power of an education and degree from BGSU.”

From experience, the Thompsons learned that when you fully fund a student for a four-year college education there is a low rate of success. It was obvious to them that for a program to be successful everyone involved must take some responsibility. Or as they say, “have some skin in the game.” So, the agreements that Cleary developed with the universities have four participants. The Thompsons invest $5,000 per student; their investment is matched with $5,000 from the university. The parents and the student make up the remaining cost with savings, loans, additional university or federal grant support and from the student working

The students who receive the Thompson Working Families Scholarships must maintain a specified grade point average and commit to community service hours. The universities agree to provide necessary resources, including counseling and tutoring, to maintain high cohort graduation rates.

Bob Thompson has a message for the scholarship students: “Even though you may not have a lot of money, you can help others, by a smile, a kind word, or listening when a friend is having a problem. Do what you can and, someday, I hope you’ll look back and say, ‘Being helped and helping others changed my life.’”