Twenty-two students will get a free ride to the University of Chicago Law School because of a $4 million donation from alumna Debra Cafaro, chairwoman of Ventas Inc. 

The gift will establish the Cafaro Scholarships, which will send at least three students per year to the law school at no cost to themselves. The first four recipients will be selected this spring and will start law school in the fall.

"I have heard many stories from current students and alumni about how life-changing their Chicago law education and experience has been and how financial support allowed them to follow their passions," dean Michael Schill said. "The Cafaro Scholarship program will ensure that the doors of opportunity are open to high-achieving students who might not otherwise have the means to attend our school."

Cafaro — the first in her family to go to college — graduated from the law school in 1982. She went on to practice law for more than a decade before becoming chief executive office of Ventas, a health-care real estate investment trust, in 1999. Cafaro was named chairman in 2003.

"As the daughter of first-generation Americans, I remember the hard work and sacrifices my parents made to send me to college and law school," Cafaro said. "It was a real stretch for them to give me opportunities they never hard."

Cafaro said that she and her husband are "thrilled" to make it possible for working-class students to attend a top law school. "They will add immeasurably to the educational and social dynamics at the law school and surely will thrive," she said.

Cafaro has maintained close ties to the law school. She has been chairwoman of the school’s annual fund and now is co-chair of the campaign planning group.

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com.