Cornell launches $1.25 billion fund drive despite uncooperative economy

October 16, 1990|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff Correspondent

ITHACA,N.Y. — ITHACA, N.Y. -- Even as several big donors worried over breakfast meetings here last week that the increasingly sour economy could hamper their ability to honor their pledges on time, Cornell University prepared to go forward with the largest fund-raising drive ever attempted in higher education: $1.25 billion.

The huge amount is necessary to pay for future, private researcat the university, say campus officials,

who hope donors will forget the daunting target figure and concentrate on its parts.

"We picked a great time," a chagrined President Frank H. T. Rhodes joked in discussing the university's five-year fund-raising plan last week.

Mr. Rhodes said trustees and alumni had urged him not to postpone the campaign, and he expressed confidence that alumni would support the university's long-term goal of building its endowment.

2& Cornell, second only to Harvard in

contributions last year, already has raised $340 million in the campaign, which will be announced Friday with 600 influential alumni returning to campus from around the world. Its $823 million endowment is one of the 10 largest in the country, but the university said it provides less support per student than 78 other major research universities.

Cornell has 18,000 students, including 6,000 graduate students, and for most of this century has tied with Harvard in sending the most undergraduates on to research ca

reers and doctorates.

High-stakes higher education fund-raising began in 1987 when Stanford announced a $1 billion drive, which so far has raised more than $900 million. Johns Hopkins University had set the previous record with a $400 million campaign that began in the mid-1980s. When that drive ended last year, it had raised more than $600 million. Last month, Columbia University topped Stanford by announcing a five-year, $1.15 billion campaign. Harvard and Yale universities are planning simi

lar-size drives this year.

Ten years ago, when Cornell began its last major campaign, the goal was $250 million.

XTC Like other universities that are engaged in large fund-raising efforts, Cornell has chosen a path it hopes will show fiscal responsibility even while it shores up the traditional parts of academe.

While the university is asking for gifts, it has moved to pare its general education budget by 4 percent, or $10 million, over the next two years.

And unlike past fund-raising efforts, which left the university with new projects and new indebtedness, Cornell's campaign -- and those recently announced by other major private universities -- is designed to refinance the traditional underpinnings of the university.

The new money will pay for such nuts and bolts as faculty salaries, building renovation and scholarships at a time when the cost of higher education exceeds the annual family income of many of Cornell's students. "Better, not bigger," is how Provost Malden C. Nesheim described Cornell's goal.

For instance, by creating a$175 million endowment for scholarships, Cornell hopes to insulate itself from the effects of shrinking federal student aid and rising costs, such as for fuel oil.

Besides scholarships, the five-year campaign includes $250 million to endow the positions of 100 already employed faculty, $300 million to renovate buildings, $450 million for instructional programs and $75 million for the library.

Cornell's drive and others come at a time of increasing public skepticism over the cost of higher education and its product.

The 1990s are expected to be a difficult period for higher education, said Mr. Rhodes, the Cornell president. He said higher education leaders, himself included, had done a "poor job" of demonstrating the link between universities and solutions to the nation's problems, from illiteracy to industrial competitiveness.

However, he said higher education was in "remarkably good shape" and continues to draw many students and faculty members from different countries.

Cornell's graduate business program, for instance, gets more applications from Tokyo than from New York City. American higher education, Mr. Rhodes said, is the "only industry that still has a balance of trade."

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