Promise for Education brings in more than $1.1 million

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UPDATE: The Chancellor’s hike to the Big C has been rescheduled for sometime later this fall.

With 34 days down and nine to go, a major UC funding initiative dubbed the Promise for Education has raised more than $1.1 million from more than 3,000 contributions.

The Promise for Education campaign, which launched Sept. 18, asks students, celebrities and UC officials to solicit friends and family members for donations toward UC undergraduate scholarships. On the initiative’s website, volunteers promise to perform a specified action if a donation benchmark is reached. Anyone can visit the website and donate money toward any of these pledges.

The money raised by the crowd-funded campaign, however, is not a sustainable substitute for money lost to state cuts to education funding and to Cal Grants, the scholarship program that handed out more than $600 million in grants in 2010-11, said Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“They’ve raised over a million dollars, which is great,” Johnson said. “That’s going to provide opportunities for students that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. But it’s a very small number compared to other grant programs.”

Money from the initiative will be distributed directly to financial aid offices across the UC system and given to students as need-based grants and scholarships, according to the campaign’s website.

The university did not set a fundraising goal for the initiative, because the campaign is the first of its kind in higher education, according to Jason Simon, executive director of marketing communications at the UC Office of the President.

“We are happy with how the program has been received and the feedback users have shared,” Simon said. “We are also excited about the variety of individuals.”

While donations came from students, staff members and alumni, Simon said many of the people who donated had no connection to the university.

UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks made a promise to hike up Charter Hill and give the Big C a fresh coat of paint, and he exceeded his goal of raising $10,000. He plans to make the trek at 9 a.m. on Nov. 22 and invited students to join him.

“Undergraduate education is extremely important to our mission and due to complications borne from years of public divestment from higher education our university is going to rely even more on philanthropy,” Dirks said in a statement.

But many of the promises ask for much less. Lawson Hill, for example, promised to paint his face blue and gold for the football game against Stanford — where he will sit with his father in the Stanford alumni section — if people donate $250.

Hill, a graduate student in environmental health sciences, said the program was a chance for students who are receiving scholarships to give back in a way that does not require money. Hill received scholarships throughout his college career and said he is excited that the time and energy he put into creating a page could turn into $250 for someone else.

He thinks it is not enough, however.

“I won’t feel satisfied — I mean, it’s only $250,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s $250 that can go towards someone’s groceries for the month or someone’s textbooks. I suppose if everyone did that, we could make a difference, and I think that’s the sort of mindset that led me to try it out.”

Hill has raised $200, 80 percent of his goal.

“Hopefully someday I’ll give back in a financial way, but until then, I try to give what I can,” Hill said. “And that’s time.”

Contact Daniel Tutt at [email protected].