Colleges finding friends in business Fund raising: Area school officials believe that a strong economy leads to more giving and that now is the time to tap the generosity and self-interest of corporations in support of academic programs.

August 02, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Bell Atlantic officials say their decision in March to donate $250,000 for scholarships at Maryland's historically black institutions was a win-win situation. The donation put the state's colleges and universities one step closer to raising their $700 million goal by the year 2001. And for Bell Atlantic, it puts them one step closer to shaping their future employees.

"We have had a long and strong relationship with all of the universities," said Bell Atlantic Vice President John W. Dillon. "Corporations can no longer stand by and assume these colleges are going to produce the kind of employees we need in Maryland."

Bell Atlantic's donation is not uncommon to today's universities, and it reflects a growing rapport between universities and corporations.

In nearly every state, public colleges and universities are now holding five- to seven-year fund-raising campaigns to raise as much as $1.2 billion. They include schools such as the University of Virginia, the University of Illinois and the University of California in Berkeley.

Maryland has created a joint campaign, asking 13 public schools to meet their individual goals, which would add up to the total $700 million. The fund-raising drive taps more than 400 volunteers around the country.

The reason: College officials say they can no longer depend solely on steady alumni giving and declining state funding to maintain academic standards. And corporations say they can no longer depend on traditional recruiting methods to tap college -- graduates.

During Maryland's fund-raising drive, corporate donations now account for 31 percent, the highest percentage of giving. Their donations have gone toward endowments, scholarships and research projects. Foundations account for 27 percent and alumni give about 23 percent.

But the fast-growing relationship between public institutions and private corporations is leaving some to ask whether public institutions are giving corporations too much voice in the universities, and taking too much time away from the school's high-ranking officials.

"I don't view this trend as negative. It essentially requires universities to be more attentive to their friends and alumni," said C. D. "Dan" Mote Jr., University of Maryland, College Park's incoming president. "I expect my role to be primary."

Mote expects that about half of his time will be devoted to tapping donations. But he believes the challenge of fund raising and administrative work is not unusual.

"The president has always had the role to be an external spokesman," he said. "It's a balancing act that presidents have had to deal with forever."

Corporate giving is not new to universities, but it is growing quickly as states find they cannot give more to universities.

In Maryland, state funding of higher education dropped from 57 percent of college budgets in 1987 to 49 percent in 1996.

"There is a realization that budgets are tight and institutions cannot expect funding to increase as much as they would like," said Jeff Welsh, spokesman for the Maryland Higher Education Commission. "There is a tacit approval [of the corporate role] by the state."

In return, corporations reap a variety of benefits, from more access to students, to buildings named after them, to access to research projects that could benefit their work. Higher education institutions contribute to the community, fund research incentives that could help increase profits, and provide strong graduates who eventually work for these corporations, Dillon said.

Corporate officials say it is simply like any other investment. Bell Atlantic officials have given about $500,000 to 39 state colleges and universities.

And in nearly every state, fund-raising campaigns targeting corporations and individuals have been extremely successful. Nearly every school is on or ahead of schedule. Maryland's colleges have raised 50 percent of their goal in 48 percent of the time, raising $416 million.

To university officials, the high level of giving is no accident. They believe the strong economy leads to more giving. They believe now is the best time to tap corporations.

"There is no question, when the stock market does well, people are in a giving mood," said Reid Crawford, who is charge of College Park's $300 million campaign.

Most corporations set aside about 1 percent of their profits for colleges and universities.

"It really improves the work force in general and that directly helps us," Dillon said. "That's smart business."

State and university officials say they are able to control (P corporate influence at the public institution by telling corporations where they need money, not letting them decide where to spend.

For example, Yale University officials returned a multimillion-dollar donation last year from Larry Kramer, who wanted to create an endowed chair for gay studies. Yale officials said such a position would be too limited and returned the gift.

"We are telling these donors where we need funding," said John Martin, who is in charge of Maryland's fund-raising campaign.

But as corporations are increasingly contributing, the state is not relinquishing its voice in public universities.

"The role of the state does not change even as the money drops," Mote said. "It is difficult to take away authority."

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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