UM sets $1 billion goal for donors

Officials hope 7-year campaign will propel university to top rank

October 21, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The University of Maryland, College Park will try to raise $1 billion from private donors by the end of 2011 - an ambitious fundraising goal that dwarfs its previous efforts and one that officials hope will propel the state's flagship campus into the company of the nation's elite research universities.

The university has raised more than $300 million of that total, officials announced yesterday in the launch of the public phase of the seven-year campaign, which began in 2004.

"This is a huge statement on the part of the university," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and former president at College Park. "It's an announcement that catapults the university into the big leagues in terms of fundraising ... and is very consistent with aspirations to be one of America's great public universities."

Roughly one-third of the money will be designated for scholarships, mostly for needy students, and some will be earmarked for enhancing campus facilities and recruiting top faculty members, officials said. About $300 million will be allocated to the university endowment, which campus officials hope will grow to be a billion-dollar fund by the end of the drive.

Ten-figure fundraising campaigns are no longer uncommon at major universities, even publicly funded ones. The University of Virginia recently announced a $3 billion fundraising campaign, and the University of California at Los Angeles took in $3 billion in its most recent effort.

But the $1 billion target represents nearly a tripling of UM's goal from its most recent campaign from 1997 to 2002.

University of Maryland President C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. said reduced state funding to public colleges nationwide means that state schools that aspire to academic excellence increasingly have to rely on private money. College Park is playing catch-up to peer schools in other states, he said.

"I would say that the University of Maryland has been a little bit later in starting this than many other large flagship universities," said Mote, who was vice chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley before coming to Maryland. "In that sense, we're a little bit behind in time."

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which tracks university capital campaigns, there are two dozen active billion-dollar fundraising drives, with seven of them seeking $2 billion or more.

In recent weeks, Columbia and Stanford universities announced that they would try to raise about $4 billion each.

Private U.S. colleges have been hitting up alumni for decades, but public schools have only recently gotten into the fundraising game. Just 12 have reached the goal that UM has set for itself, Kirwan said.

"Private fundraising was for many, many years the province of private institutions," he said. "Back in the 1980s that began to change, in part because of declining state investment in institutions, but also in part as a source of funds to build excellence at universities."

State funds account for only about 25 percent of College Park's operating budget, according to university officials.

"Twenty years ago, I suspect that was probably more like 40 or 50 percent," said former Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. He said the $1 billion goal is "not an outlandish number," even though it is almost twice the fundraising goal for the entire University of Maryland system that he oversaw in 1997.

Today, the 13-campus system, which encompasses 10 universities, one college and two research centers, has a cumulative goal of raising about $1.8 billion, Kirwan said.

Though these are apparent salad days for private giving to public colleges, higher education officials expressed concern that state legislatures would see an increasingly generous public as justification for further tightening the flow of state funds to colleges.

"Universities still desperately need their states to support them," said Aaron Conley, a fundraising official at the University of Pittsburgh, which recently announced it was doubling its $1 billion campaign goal. "Private fundraising campaigns are simply a way to augment a decline in state funding."

Despite Maryland's relatively stingy funding for higher education in comparison with other states, Kirwan said, the state has invested several million dollars in the fundraising infrastructure that is contributing to College Park and the other campuses' current successes in private fundraising.

Mote predicted that the University of Maryland would exceed its billion-dollar goal, just as it exceeded by about $100 million its previous $350 million fund drive.

But Mote said no one should think that the drive will allow a reduction in state financial support of higher education.

"This is not a private club of some kind. This is not a business working in competition with state enterprise. There is no asset this state has that is more important to its future than this campus," he said. "And if the state doesn't figure that out, the state will have a big problem."

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