Author: Marjorie Valbrun
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Fresh from receiving a $252 million donation, the single largest gift in its history, the University of California, Berkeley, announced the start of an ambitious $6 billion fundraising campaign, the largest goal yet by any public higher ed institution without a medical school or health science center.
The campaign, which was formally announced Saturday, reflects a trend of universities and colleges increasingly seeking and receiving enormous amounts of donor money as state funding for higher education fails to keep up with the growing costs of running colleges.
The University of California, Los Angeles, announced the next day that it raised nearly $5.5 billion during its most recent campaign, which launched in May 2014 and ended in December 2019.
Among leading private institutions, Harvard University’s last campaign, which ended in 2018, raised $9.6 billion. The University of Chicago announced last Tuesday that it raised $5.4 billion from a recently ended campaign that launched in October 2014.
The University of Washington, a public research institution that has schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry and public health, appears to be the only public institution to have raised over $6 billion. It launched a $5.9 billion campaign in October 2016 that is scheduled to end in June and has raised $6.06 billion so far.
Berkeley administrators said they hoped to reach the $6 billion goal by 2023, a seemingly high bar for a three-year campaign — the university’s last campaign ran from 2005 to 2013 and raised $3.13 billion — but officials are undaunted, perhaps swayed by the reality that even as individual giving has declined nationally, overall giving has risen and the amounts donated have increased. Berkeley has already raised $3.44 billion so far, a university spokesman said.
“We actually have not found that giving has been declining,” Carol Christ, Berkeley’s chancellor, said during a media briefing last week. She noted that the university enjoyed record philanthropy in the last two years and that 2020 giving has already surpassed last year.
“People understand the need for philanthropy to Berkeley and are happy to join us as partners in reaching our goal,” she said.
The $252 million gift to the university is from an anonymous, living donor and will help fund construction of a new “data hub” for the university’s Division of Computing, Data Science and Society. The hub will serve as a central location for “the diverse array of students and faculty engaged in computing and data science research and teaching and will provide a new anchor for Berkeley’s fastest-growing new areas of study,” according to a press release announcing the gift.
The university also announced a $50 million donation to its College of Natural Resources from Gordon Rausser, former dean of the college and the Robert Gordon Sproul Distinguished Professor Emeritus of agricultural and resource economics. The gift to the College of Natural Resources “will support the school’s land-grant mission to take on key economic, social, environmental and health challenges facing the state and the nation,” according to another press release by the university.
Christ said such generosity is needed more than ever, given dwindling state funding for higher ed, a reality that colleges and universities across the country are facing. She said the decline in state support was a reason for setting the fundraising goal high.
State funding currently accounts for 14 percent of Berkeley’s budget, a significant drop from the period of the last fundraising campaign, when state support was 25.8 percent of the university’s budget.
Christ said the state remains an “extraordinary partner” of the university, but “we have to be much more entrepreneurial in our diversification.”
She said administrators spent over a year developing a strategic plan for the university and made the decision “to raise money for the very core of the institution” and to ensure that the funds raised would be used to meet the various needs across the campus and “didn’t select some departments and leave out others.”
The new data hub building “was part of our capital planning process,” she said.
The high fundraising bar is an indication of worrisome fiscal and economic trends in higher ed as demographic shifts in the U.S. and the shrinking population of college-age students has cut into the revenues of two- and four-year institutions and forced them to ramp up their fundraising efforts. In many cases, those efforts were already highly competitive, and aggressive, at the nation’s most elite institutions. Christ did not mince words about the current state of affairs; she said the money raised would not be funding “nice to haves” but would instead pay for the “must-haves,” or the university’s core needs and priorities.
Those needs include:
- 100 new tenure-track faculty positions. (Undergraduate enrollment grew 14 percent in the past five years, but there has been no increase in the number of faculty members during that same period.)
- 300 new graduate student fellowships to compete for the brightest minds.
- Affordable campus housing for all freshman, sophomore and first-year transfer students. (This will accommodate the growth in the number of students.)
- Undergraduate scholarships and opportunities for all undergrads to do research.
- Support for research for the public good in targeted academic areas: data science and artificial intelligence, health, the environment, democracy and equality, and innovation and entrepreneurship.
Christ said the university will work to engage students, alumni, longtime supporters and even those unaffiliated with the university in the fundraising campaign.
“We will be seeking to tell the story of this campaign in multiple ways to multiple audiences,” she said.
Christ said Berkeley had received donations from 168,672 unique donors as of Feb. 28.
One of the largest gifts so far came from philanthropists Sanford and Joan Weill, who donated $106 million jointly to Berkeley; the University of California, San Francisco; and the University of Washington last November to create a “neurohub” to “accelerate the development of new treatments for diseases and disorders of the brain.”
“He’s not an alum, and some of our largest gifts came from people who are not alums,” she said.