125 Stanford Stories

NO. 1
Looking Back

Making dreams possible

Stanford’s commitment to affordability changes lives and enables great achievements.

Stanford’s commitment to affordability makes dreams possible

Affordability has been part of the Stanford story from the beginning. For its first 29 years, Stanford was tuition-free. Today, the university guarantees to meet the demonstrated financial need of all its U.S. undergraduates. Parents with typical assets and incomes below $125,000 pay no tuition, and those with incomes below $65,000 pay no tuition, room or board. The commitment is institutional, but its effects are personal and life-changing. Students enabled by financial aid to receive a Stanford education often go on to do extraordinary things.


David M. Kennedy, ’63, became the first person in his family to attend college. He went on to become a beloved professor of history at Stanford and, in 2000, to receive the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945.

“My father had his life badly broken by the Great Depression. He simply did not have the means to send me to a private university,” Kennedy said. “If I met my donor I would thank him or her with all my heart. Without that financial aid I could not have come to Stanford University and my life would be very, very different.”

The men and women who endow such scholarships also see their end of the interaction as profoundly personal – a gesture across time, place and circumstance to young people in whom they see a version of a loved one or themselves.

A grieving Jane Stanford endowed the university’s first scholarship with the contents of the bank account of her late son, Leland Stanford Jr., who had diligently saved his $10 monthly allowance and the 25 cents an hour he earned doing odd jobs. By 1900, the account had accumulated $2,236.52, and Leland Jr.’s money began to pay room, board and fees – then about $30 a month – for deserving students.

A dozen years later, W. J. Dickey of Fresno, California, became the first person outside the Stanford family to endow a scholarship at the university. A poor boy who worked his way into a fortune in real estate, oil and banking, Dickey left $10,000 in his will to send deserving Fresno County students to Stanford.

While Dickey never became a household word in Silicon Valley, at least one of his beneficiaries did. William Hansen, ’29, PhD ’33, co-invented the klystron, the key to numerous technologies, including radar.