Tuskegee University, one of the nation's most prominent black colleges since its founding a century ago by Booker T. Washington, is seeking $150 million in donations by the year 2000 in the largest fund-raising effort any black college has ever attempted.
Officials of Tuskegee, a 100-year-old predominantly black Alabama college, announced the campaign this week in New York.
"We know it's not going to be easy," said Benjamin F. Payton, the university's president. "It's a monumental challenge for us, but we can't wait for the recession to end to attack the needs we have."
Mr. Payton and Andrew F. Brimmer, chairman of the board of trustees, said Tuskegee had already received $54 million in gifts and pledges as part of the campaign, begun in 1989.
Colleges and universities typically begin raising money two or three years before they announce a campaign.
Tuskegee's effort comes as the United Negro College Fund, the consortium of 41 private black colleges and universities, is itself in the middle of its largest-ever capital campaign, a $250 million drive.
That effort's kickoff, last year, drew widespread attention when Walter Annenberg, the financier and former ambassador to Britain, pledged $50 million.
But officials of Tuskegee and of the UNCF, to which Tuskegee belongs, said they saw no conflict in the two campaigns.
Mr. Payton said that Tuskegee would continue to receive money from the UNCF throughout its own campaign.
"They're raising $250 million for 41 schools, and we support them wholeheartedly," he said. "We're raising money for ourselves and they support us.
"We believe, as they do, that the more each individual institution does, the easier it will be for all to benefit."
Mr. Payton said that the money Tuskegee is seeking would be used for campus buildings and equipment, endowments for faculty chairs and research, student scholarships and general operating expenses.
Tuskegee's curriculum emphasizes business, scientific and technical courses, a legacy of Booker T. Washington and of George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee professor and scientist who became famous for, among other things, his discoveries of the many uses of the peanut and sweet potato.
Education and fund-raising specialists agreed with Mr. Payton's assessment, saying there is no reason to believe that the UNCF and Tuskegee will be competing for the same philanthropic dollars.
Dr. Charles V. Willie, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said Tuskegee "is pioneering in what other black colleges have to do: take the issue of their value to the larger society through fund-raising campaigns."
Dr. Willie added: "Tuskegee's courage in launching this big a campaign at the same time as the UNCF demonstrates how chronically underfunded black colleges have been.
"It's a challenge to Tuskegee, sure. But it's also a challenge to the nation, because these colleges have to be supported for the good they do America," he said.
Tuskegee's goal puts it in rarefied company, according to George A. Brakeley III, a fund-raising consultant. He noted that about 30 colleges and universities have begun efforts to raise more than $250 million each and that at least 50 are aiming for between $100 million and $250 million. Eight have set goals of $1 billion or more.
Mr. Brakeley, president of Brakeley John Price Jones of Stamford, Conn., added that, despite the recession, Tuskegee's landmark campaign makes perfect sense" for three reasons.
"First," he said, "their needs aren't going to go away because of the recession. Indeed, they'll get more pressing if they leave them to fester.
"Secondly, the kind of big givers a campaign like this needs aren't affected by these economic downturns. They can draw from deep wells," Mr. Brakely said.
And, he said: "Giving to a college or university is as much an emotional decision as a financial one.
"If the institution says it has a need, and says it in the right ways, alumni and non-alumni donors are going to give."