The son of immigrants from Poland, Leon Cooperman grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in the South Bronx. Today, Forbes estimates his net worth at $3.2 billion. But Cooperman hasn’t forgotten his roots.
This spring, Cooperman and his wife, Toby, a former special-needs teacher, were introduced to the first beneficiaries of their new $25 million scholarship program. Most of the initial Cooperman College Scholars will be the first in their families to attend college. Their stories ring true for Cooperman.
“I was the first generation in my family born in America,” says Cooperman, 73. “I was the first generation to go to college…. I want to give these kids the chance I got.”
The Cooperman scholarship program benefits college-bound youths from Essex County, primarily from urban school districts. The initial 77 recipients were chosen from among 300 applicants. About 50 of the scholars will attend one of the program’s four partner schools: the College of New Jersey in Ewing; Rowan University in Glassboro; Rutgers University in Newark; and Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Others are bound for such impressive addresses as Princeton University, Dartmouth and Boston Colleges. Awardees who attend a partner school receive up to $9,000 per year toward tuition, books and fees. If they choose another college, they receive up to $2,000 per year. Each student also receives a laptop.
The Coopermans lived in Essex County for 36 years, raising two sons. Leon Cooperman, who attended Columbia Business School under a National Defense Education Act student loan, began his career in finance at Goldman Sachs. In 1991, he launched Omega Advisors, a hedge fund with current assets of about $5.2 billion. This year, the website njbiz.com named him the fourth wealthiest New Jerseyan.
Cooperman says there are four things people can do with money: consume it, give it to their children, give it to the government or recycle it back into society. “My intent is to give it back,” he says. The scholarship fund is one of four similar pledges the Coopermans made in recent years, including a $25 million gift to St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
To be eligible for the Cooperman scholarship, students must have at least a 2.75-GPA and meet household income requirements. “These splendid youngsters will be more competitive in society with a college degree,” says Cooperman, whose goal is to help 500 students over the next 10 years. “This is life changing.”Click here to leave a comment