(CNN) - Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who is weighing a 2020 presidential run, is donating $1.8 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins.
The university and Bloomberg are calling it the biggest contribution to an academic institution in American history, according to a press release -- and the gift's record-setting size will not be lost on possible challengers in a Democratic primary. Last week, Bloomberg said he plans to decide on a 2020 bid no later than February, a spokesperson confirmed to CNN.
The gift will fund financial aid for qualified low- and middle-income students, allowing the university to forever make admissions decisions on a "need-blind" basis — without considering an applicant's ability to pay, according to the press release.
The contribution also eliminates student loans from financial aid packages, replacing those loans with grants that don't need to be repaid. The change will ease the burden of student debt for many graduates and make the campus more socioeconomically diverse, Bloomberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed in which he explains his rationale for the gift and the impact it will have.
"America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook," he wrote.
Improving access to top colleges and universities for students who can't afford it has long been a focus of Bloomberg's philanthropic efforts. Bloomberg's foundation supports several programs dedicated to helping high-achieving, lower-income students apply to, enroll in and graduate from top institutions.
"This changes everything for us," said Ronald J. Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, in an interview with CNN. Without Bloomberg's support, it was a "real struggle" for the school to meet its commitment to "need-blind" admissions, said Daniels.
Compared to its top 10 peers, Johns Hopkins had one of the lowest endowed funds for student financial aid and one of the smallest average need-based awards, making it increasingly difficult for families to afford the university, according to the press release.
Excluding the Johns Hopkins donation, Bloomberg has donated $6.4 billion to philanthropic causes ranging from climate change to improving health. The university is a significant beneficiary of Bloomberg's giving, having received $1.5 billion in previous years to support research, teaching and financial aid.
Potential opponents in 2020 would have to consider Bloomberg's wealth, which Forbes estimates to be $46 billion, and his willingness to spend it. The businessman contributed over $110 million in an effort to wrest control of the House and Senate from Republicans.
Bloomberg's political spending and his appearance in a national TV ad earlier this month, urging voters to support Democrats raised his profile outside of New York, where he's well known after serving three terms as mayor.
Bloomberg embarked on a political career after building a financial information and news empire Bloomberg L.P. In the New York Times op-ed, Bloomberg says his Johns Hopkins "diploma opened up doors that otherwise would have been closed, and allowed me to live the American dream."
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