SAN FRANCISCO — The University of California garnered a record $1.64 billion in donations, marking the 13th consecutive year that the university has drawn more than $1 billion from private sources.
In the wake of several years of declining state funding, this achievement signals the widely urged strengthening of the university’s private fundraising operation. Over the past year, the university has sought to revitalize its fundraising program with initiatives such as the Promise for Education campaign, a program launched in September that used social media to raise more than $1 million for UC scholarships.
“There is a very tangible benefit to public education, and I would hate to see that absorbed by privatization,” said Student Regent Cinthia Flores. “However, it is unrealistic for the University of California to rely on strictly state funds to maintain and enhance its program.”
At its meeting Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents welcomed the growing presence of private funds in the UC budget. But some expressed concern that the UC system has not allocated the funding to the parts of the university most in need.
The majority of these funds — more than $1 billion of the $1.64 billion pool — went to departmental support and research, according to the Annual Report on University Private Support. Significant portions were also allocated to campus improvement and student support, including scholarships and awards.
“What is most encouraging to me is some of the out-of-the-box, innovative things,” said UC Regent Sherry Lansing. “(The Promise for Education campaign) was fun; it was kind of the democratization of fundraising.”
Even as the UC system drew increased private funding, the UC Berkeley campus foundation saw a decline in private funding from $411 million last year to $347 million this year. Still, the campus remains within striking distance of its $3 billion fundraising goal set out by the Campaign for Berkeley — a philanthropic campaign initiated in 2005 that ends this year.
Of the donations awarded to UC Berkeley in the past year, approximately $50 million was allotted to campus improvement, and more than $150 million was allocated for student and departmental support. More than $75 million was designated for research.
Still, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom questioned whether the UC system has allocated enough funding to directly support students, and he also called for further information on corporate donations to the university.
“Are the business communities being more generous or less generous than they’ve been in the past?” he said. “These are things to be talking about.”
The regents acknowledged funding shortfalls in their discussion of doctoral student support and retention earlier in the day, identifying a lack of adequate financial support as a significant barrier to competing with other top-tier universities for graduate students.
Because UC stipends are lower than those of some peer institutions, the university lags behind other schools in attracting candidates, according to UC Academic Senate chair Bill Jacob. Additionally, the university’s increased nonresident tuition limits its competitiveness in attracting international talent.
“UC policies for charging (graduate student researcher) tuition to grants and contracts, and on some campuses for charging TA tuition to departments, make international students far more expensive than are domestic students, providing a strong disincentive to recruit international students,” stated one of the meeting’s agenda items.
But it might not be fair to compare the UC system to smaller private institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Stanford, said Gov. Jerry Brown, who was present at the meeting.
“We’re comparing ourselves to entities that don’t grow — they just work on quality and have these huge endowments” he said. “They just get better and better with the same number of people.”
The university has grown significantly in the past few years, he said, adding that the UC system has 10 campuses to account for, as opposed to just one.
Some regents pointed out that prospective graduate students consider a number of factors when selecting a school that extend beyond stipends. According to the agenda item, even when the university’s stipend offer was $10,000 less than offers from other institutions, 27 percent of candidates still chose the UC system.
The board also discussed the importance of increasing diversity within the graduate student population.
“As a world leader in higher education, we must also enhance the diversity of our graduate student populations,” said Student Observer Vanessa Garcia, a fifth-year at UC San Diego. “We must remember that our doctoral and graduate students are literally the glue that hold our university together.”
The regents also heard an update from the Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories. They will convene for their last day of session Thursday to discuss the UC budget for 2014-15.