Now Look Who's Buttonholing Private Donors: Public Colleges

The University of Connecticut in Stamford is aggressively recruiting, not just quarterbacks and valedictorians, but a new kind of campus "star" - fund-raisers.

The college has amassed a team of several dozen people who work the phone lines and direct-mail lists - some lured away from other colleges - to bring in money from alumni and private sources. The results have been dramatic: The school has raised $15 million in the past 10 months.

UConn's bold adventure in private fund-raising is symbolic of a growing movement at public universities across the country. Faced with cuts in state aid, public schools are increasingly tapping corporations and other donors - once the exclusive domain of the Harvards and Yales.

"There isn't a public university that hasn't gone through what we that hasn't gone through what we have," says Edward Allenby, UConn's vice president of institutional advancement, who was wooed from William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

While some large public colleges have been fund-raising for decades, many tried to ride out the latest wave of state budget cuts, slashing some programs and raising tuition. But now the universities have all but abandoned that approach, recognizing that the days are gone when the state paid for two-thirds of their operating costs.

Playing catch-up to the Ivies

In their pursuit of private money, public colleges are using tactics that are no different than those of private universities. They're tracking down forgotten alumni and compiling more comprehensive lists of prospective donors. They're offering salaries approaching six figures to attract top people to head their development offices. They're also meeting with considerable success: Public colleges raised about $1,200 per enrolled student in private gifts in 1995, more than double the amount 20 years ago, according to the the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) in New York.

Schools are using private donations to help pay for everything from faculty salaries and student aid to library books and new classrooms. The University of Virginia in Charlottesville just built a new $45 million business school facility funded entirely with private money.

"A lot of public institutions have been in the [fund-raising] game a long time," says David Morgan, CAE's vice president of research. "But in recent years, they have been scrambling pretty hard to make up for cutbacks at the federal and state levels."

The cuts in state aid are no exaggeration. In 1980, on average 9.9 percent of state budgets was allocated to higher education, according to CAE. In 1990, that number fell to 7.8 percent.

While public universities are gaining ground in the fund-raising department, they still have a way to go to catch up with the likes of Harvard and Yale. Private universities still manage to collect more money per student ($4,200 vs. $1,200). Still, since 1976 the amount of money public universities have collected has grown at a faster rate than the amount private institutions have brought in. Together, American public and private colleges received a record $12.75 billion in private contributions in 1995 (although no data exist on how public and private institutions divide that bonanza).

Still, "the big public institutions are just as sophisticated as the private ones," says Peter Buchanan, president of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education in Washington.

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, for example, began soliciting private money as the auto industry - and state tax revenues - declined in the 1970s. Today, it has an army of more than 100 fund-raisers, who just crossed the $1-billion mark a year earlier than planned in the school's five-year capital campaign.

"If we want to remain on the leading edge of excellence, we couldn't do that without fund-raising," says Thomas Kinnear, University of Michigan vice president of development. This year, 800 freshmen had all A's, he says. "To attract them to come, we must offer incentives - scholarships."

Even Iowa State University, where state appropriations still account for nearly 40 percent of the school's total budget, is aggressively seeking private dollars. After raising $214 million between 1988 and '92, contributions came in at near record levels over the next three years. In September, the university launched a new $300 million fund-raising effort to pay for scholarships and professorships.

"Most of what we do is share a vision," says Phyllis Lepke, vice president of the Iowa State University Foundation. "People like to hitch on to a rising star."

Many public colleges, however, have been much slow to act.

"Up until the last five years, many deans were hoping that state appropriations would come back to the level of the '80s," says Bruce McClintock, chairman of Marts & Lundy Inc., a fund-raising consulting firm in Lyndhurst, N.J. "It's a lot easier to work with one legislator than 30,000 alumni."

New England brings up the rear

The public schools in New England are particularly far behind, in part because the region has the highest concentration of private colleges in the country.

The University of Massachusetts just launched its first-ever major fund drive. It looks to raise $175 million over five years for its Boston and Amherst campuses.

"There hadn't been an administration in office to build any type of sustained effort to get it [fund-raising] moving," says Bob Lyons, director of the University of Massachusetts Foundation.

At the University of Connecticut, state appropriations fell from 70 percent of the school's total budget eight years ago to 33 percent now. To compensate, the school cut 12.5 percent of its full-time staff and increased tuition 128 percent.

In 1995 the state legislature allotted UConn $100,000 over 10 years for brick-and-mortar improvements, and it will match up to $20 million in endowment gifts. "If we'd been doing it for decades, it would have been a lot easier," Mr. Allenby says.

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