Elon Musk Pledges $100M to Launch a New University in Austin

His plans involve opening a primary and secondary school that will evolve into a full-fledged university.

Man sits at panel dressed in suit
Elon Musk in Rome on December 15, 2023. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

In October of 2021, Elon Musk tweeted his plans to open a Texas university complete with “epic merch” and tuition paid in his favored cryptocurrency, Dogecoin. Although it was unclear at the time whether the billionaire’s comments were a joke, his intention to build a school in the state has now been confirmed.

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The Tesla (TSLA) CEO is funneling $100 million towards the creation of an Austin-based school, according to an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) filing by The Foundation, one of Musk’s charitable entities. Its IRS application for tax-exempt status was approved in March and maps out Musk’s plan to open a primary and secondary school that will ultimately evolve into a full-fledged university, as first reported by Bloomberg.

The school will specialize in STEM subjects and start off with an enrollment of around 50 students, combining formal instruction with “hands-on learning experience including simulations, case studies, fabrication/design projects and labs,” according to the application. It is currently seeking accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

As of October 2022, the school was in the process of hiring an executive director, teachers and administrators. It will be tuition-free, having allotted $2 million in scholarship funding for its inaugural year, and will award need-based scholarships to students if tuition is later charged at the primary, secondary or university levels.

Members of Musk’s inner circle like Jared Birchall, Musk’s wealth manager; Ronald Gong and Teresa Holland, employees at the Musk-linked financial services company Catalyst Family Office; and Steven Chidester, a tax attorney at Withersworldwide, are listed as school trustees.

What would a school run by Elon Musk look like?

Musk, currently the world’s richest person with an estimated net worth of $254.9 billion, hasn’t shied away from sharing his thoughts on university education in the past. Discipline and social interaction are the primary benefits of secondary education, he said at a Satellite conference in 2020. “I don’t consider college evidence of exceptional ability,” said the billionaire of his hiring process at Tesla. “In fact, ideally you dropped out.”

This nontraditional approach towards education was reflected in Ad Astra, a small experimental school Musk created in 2014 to educate his own children and those of some SpaceX employees. “The regular schools weren’t doing what I thought should be done,” said Musk of the venture in 2015. Ad Astra, which takes its name from the Latin phrase for “to the stars,” was located in SpaceX’s California headquarters and emphasized technical projects instead of formal assessments and grading. With a focus on STEM and issues like the rise of artificial intelligence, the school’s 2018 curriculum included subjects such as environmental policy, space exploration and North Korea. The physical school shut down in 2020, branching off into online education.

Musk has also supported schools in Texas, the state he’s called home most recently. In 2021, he pledged to donate $20 million towards schools in Cameron County, Texas plus $10 million to revitalize the nearby city of Brownsville. And the billionaire has previously given millions of dollars to the online educational platform Khan Academy, which was used by Ad Astra students for self-guided courses.

Much of Musk’s philanthropic activity involves the Musk Foundation, which he founded in 2002 alongside his brother Kimball. The organization, which received a staggering $5.7 billion in Tesla shares from Musk in 2021, focuses on renewable energy, space exploration, pediatric science, science and engineering education and the development of safe A.I. Some of the tech mogul’s most significant donations to date include a $100 million gift towards a carbon capture technology prize and a $10 million donation to support population research programs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Elon Musk Pledges $100M to Launch a New University in Austin