Here's why Home Depot's billionaire co-founder is helping pay tuition for every NYU med school student

ken langoneKenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot Inc, speaks at a panel discussion at the SALT conference in Las Vegas May 14, 2014. SALT is produced by SkyBridge Capital, a global investment firm. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

  • Billionaire philanthropist Ken Langone helped found Home Depot in the 1970s.
  • Langone recently donated $100 million to help make NYU's medical school tuition-free for all students.
  • Langone - who worked odd jobs to pay his way through college - told CBS's "60 Minutes" that he donated the money to make life easier for those burdened with student debt.
  • This article is part of Business Insider's ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, announced last year that he'd help pay for the tuition of New York University medical students. Shortly after, a pediatrician approached him and revealed she still had debt - 30 years out of med school.

Until Langone's announcement, the mother was "convinced" she would die in debt helping her son, an NYU student, pay for college. The story touched Langone deeply, according to a recent interview he gave to CBS's "60 Minutes."

"These are great people," the philanthropist said. "We just say, 'Let's do what we can to help make it easier for them.'"

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The Home Depot co-founder donated $100 million to help pay tuition for every NYU medical student, and he helped raise an additional $350 million for the program. The company that made him rich also has a generous tuition reimbursement policy, which recently expanded eligibility for funding.

Langone, whose net worth now totals a reported $3.7 billion, once struggled to pay off college tuition himself. The son of a plumber and a cafeteria worker who lived paycheck to paycheck, Langone dug ditches for the Long Island Expressway to afford tuition at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

Langone's donation comes at a time when young people have a record amount of debt, fueled largely by student loans. Some economists have predicted that 40% of borrowers might default on their student loans by 2023, which could have economic effects similar to those of the subprime-mortgage crisis.

The billionaire joined the NYU medical school as chairman in 1999. The medical center changed its name to honor Langone in 2008, after he and his wife gave $200 million to the school, the largest donation in its history.

According to Langone, the idea developed over a decade ago when the Home Depot mogul sat down with NYU Dean Robert Grossman and asked what the school wanted to accomplish. When Grossman mentioned going tuition-free, Langone immediately began fundraising.

The effort took Langone 11 years to accomplish, but the philanthropist recently told CBS anchor Lesley Stahl the endowment can now offer free tuition to every student, a gift worth more than $200,000 per student.

Langone told CBS he hoped his donation would inspire students to give back to their community in a similar way.

"I think about the mindset of a kid saying, 'Somebody did something for me. Now, I've gotta do something for somebody,'" Langone said. "That's a big thing."

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