In Good Health: Another Campus Gift Finds an Alumni Couple Attuned to Market Demand


Reporting on a $20 million gift to fund a new health school at Loyola University by former Baxter International CEO Robert Parkinson and his wife Elizabeth, Crain’s Chicago Business described the commitment as a means to “underwrite new offerings in fast-growing, competitive fields.”

A spate of gifts earmarked to health-related university initiatives over the past six months corroborates Marek's statement. Examples include $25 million from Herbert Wertheim to create a public health school at UC San Diego, the Anschutz Foundation’s $120 million gift to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and a $20 million gift from Richard P. Cole to endow a program in health law at the University of Florida.

Each of these gifts finds donors attuned to the huge importance of the healthcare sector in local economies and American life broadly—an importance that will only grow as the population ages.

Loyola announced the creation of the Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health last November in “response to dynamic changes in health care” driving a need for health informaticians, clinical data scientists, biostatisticians and health technology security experts.” Commenting on the gift, Loyola president Jo Ann Rooney said, “From the employer's side, there's great demand (for health care professionals), not just in current needs, but looking to the future.”

I’ll delve a bit deeper into the “demand” that Rooney alluded to and its implications for university fundraisers elsewhere in a moment. But first, let’s a take a closer look at the donors behind the gift, Loyola’s largest since Rooney became president in 2016.

Surging Demand

The Parkinsons’ years of consistent support to Loyola, coupled with Bob’s extensive experience in the healthcare sector and recent retirement, represent the archetypal prelude to an alumnus mega-gift.

Robert Parkinson earned a BBA in 1973 and an MBA in 1975 at Loyola before embarking on a distinguished 25-year career at Abbott Laboratories, serving in a variety of domestic and international management and leadership positions, including as president and COO. In 2004, he became the CEO of Baxter International, an $11 billion Deerfield, Illinois-based healthcare company. In 2012, Forbes pegged his total compensation at $21 million and his five-year compensation at $56 million.

According to Joe Cahill, writing in Crain’s back in 2013, Baxter “was in bad shape” when Parkinson took over, “and he fixed it.” Baxter shares more than tripled the rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 on Parkinson’s watch. Parkinson stepped down as Baxter CEO at the end of 2015.

Parkinson and Elizabeth, who graduated with a BS in 1975, have supported an array of Loyola projects and initiatives throughout the years, including service on the Quinlan School of Business Board of Advisors, the Blue Ribbon Task force on Student Life, and the Stritch School of Medicine Annual Award Dinner Committee. Parkinson has also served on the board of directors for Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and as chairman of Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, among other Chicago-based organizations.

Parkinson was the dean of Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business from 2002 to 2004. He joined the school’s board of trustees in 2005, and currently serves as chairman.

Having presided over Baxter International, a company that makes products to treat hemophilia, kidney disease, immune disorders and other chronic and acute medical conditions, Parkinson clearly has a finger on the pulse (pun intended) of U.S. healthcare in terms of treatment, costs and in-demand skills.

Former Loyola President Father Michael Garanzini referenced this skill set way back in 2013, when Parkinson was named chair of the university’s board, noting, “As a leader of a global business, Bob brings tremendous business acumen and success to the university. His background as a university administrator and his commitment to Loyola’s mission of educating the next generation of global leaders will benefit Loyola students.”

Six years later, Garanzini’s praise sounds especially prescient. Of Loyola's 17,000 undergraduate and graduate students, about 2,660, or 16 percent, are enrolled in health science programs. More than half are seeking nursing degrees, with others studying to be doctors or hospital administrators, among other occupations. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts healthcare occupations will climb faster than any other type between 2016 and 2026, jumping 18 percent to add 2.4 million jobs. Students are already responding, with those seeking health-related bachelor's and master's degrees more than doubling between 2006 and 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Surveying the Fundraising Horizon

The new Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health will find Loyola attempting to navigate the fine line between meeting demand and saturating a robust market.

As the Crain’s article notes, Chicago already boasts many formidable health schools, including Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the Rush University Medical Center and DePaul University, all of which are either rolling out or contemplating big capital projects.

We’ve seen a similar scenario play out in St. Louis, where Saint Louis University is aggressively ramping up its research footprint in a city that includes Washington University, a school that netted over $600 million in research support in 2015 and recently announced plans to construct a $300 million neuroscience building.

The open question in both cases is the extent to which competition will either catalyze or depress giving. If the Saint Louis University case study is any indication, the answer should encourage Loyola fundraisers. Last August, Saint Louis University announced a record-breaking fundraising haul of $98.7 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30th.

Three additional factors should warm the hearts of Loyola’s fundraisers. First is the fact that, according to Rooney, “we anticipate we will need to put some capital investment in the form of a new building.” Recent history tells us that universities with a growing footprint in the healthcare field are often well-positioned to attract donor support for major capital projects.

Second, Loyola laid out a compelling argument explaining how the new school aligns with its mission as a Jesuit institution. The November internal memo noted that the new school will enable Loyola to “assist the poor and marginalized of our society” and address “our Catholic healthcare calling to provide quality care to all who need it,” while “closing gaps in health care access and equity.”

The Parkinsons echoed these sentiments in a statement announcing the gift, saying, “Loyola’s Jesuit mission calls on us to make a real difference through the professionals we form and the people we serve. With this lead gift, Betty and I are confident that others will support this school, which is so vital to improving healthcare locally and throughout the world.”

With donor interest in equity issues showing no signs of abating, I expect this message to resonate across the Loyola alumni community.

Lastly, the Parkinsons’ gift comes as Loyola is ramping up a capital campaign which, according to Crain’s, may start as early as next year when the university turns 150 years old. The trends here are also rather amenable. A recent survey from the Council for Advancement and Support Education found that American colleges and universities raised a record $46.7 billion in fiscal 2018—a 7.2 percent increase over 2017. The rise is driven in part by donors like Robert and Elizabeth Parkinson, who, having made their fortunes across all corners of the global economy, are putting their unique imprint on recipient schools based on their vision of the future.

Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health degree programs will start with fall.