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Cal State Playing Catch-Up in Fund-Raising Game

Education: CSUN is among the public schools slowly gaing ground attracting donations from corporations and wealthy alumni.

April 03, 2000|SOLOMON MOORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Right before the jazz band started and the audience gave two standing ovations to a CSUN alumna for her $1.5-million donation, Yale architect Robert A.M. Stern injected a strong dose of reality into the fund-raising event.

The February contribution kicked off a yearlong $10-million fund-raising campaign at Cal State Northridge, remarkably its first. But Stern, a brash New Yorker, was less than impressed.

"It doesn't seem enough," he told the assembly. "At Yale, $10 million is one gift, and not necessarily a naming opportunity at that."

At a time when a record number of university endowments are in the billions, it is easy to write off Cal State University's efforts as chump change. In 1998, Northridge raised $8.6 million, a figure Yale dwarfed with its $223-million haul.

But to be fair--and many say Stern was not--Yale is 300 years old and educates some of the world's wealthiest students.

Northridge is 41 years old and serves many recent immigrants and first-generation students, most of whom supplement student loans with part-time jobs.

Says CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed: "We have to tell people about who we graduate and what our student body overcame and what they've contributed back into their communities. We're the economic engine of this state."

That is how CSU fund-raisers are selling their institutions to wealthy individuals and corporations. We're not sexy, they say, but you can't live without us. So far, it is working--the 23-campus system has raised $1.4 billion since 1990.

Administrators acknowledge they have a long way to go. For example, UCLA raised $1.5 billion in seven years. Columbia University raised twice that amount in 10 years.

But CSU is leading the pack among large public master's universities--meat-and-potatoes schools that emphasize teaching and access rather than research and prestige.

No one really knows why Cal State waited so long to fine-tune its fund-raising. Some cite tradition. Some mistakenly believed it was illegal for CSU to raise private dollars.

"The unspoken public policy was to treat the CSU as if it was a welfare state-funded agency," Reed said. "All that's changed."

Recession of '90s Spurred Fund-Raising

As state revenues fell during the recession of the early 1990s, costs associated with corrections, K-12 schools and public health care eclipsed higher education funding. The budgets of the state's two university systems were slashed. Academic programs languished, tuition skyrocketed and professors were laid off.

The University of California raised its tuition by 24% in 1992. Meanwhile, the California State University system raised tuition 40% but couldn't provide the kind of generous retirement packages for teachers offered by UC.

"At the time, most of our campuses had virtually no endowment," said former Cal State Chancellor Barry Munitz. "The UC got through that crisis in a way the CSU couldn't."

Cal State has been putting its statewide fund-raising team together since 1994. It has had mixed success so far. San Diego State, with more research programs than any other CSU campus, raised $33 million in 1998. Other success stories include the system's flagship campus, Cal State Long Beach, which raised $36 million and the system's biggest sports school, Fresno State, which raised $21 million.

Despite their prime locations, CSU's three Los Angeles campuses--Cal State L.A., Dominguez Hills and Northridge--have started off slowly, raising a total of $30 million among them.

Some experts say fierce competition with fund-raising powerhouses USC and UCLA has hampered local CSU campuses. Others say Los Angeles-based CSUs have fewer affluent students than suburban campuses such as San Jose State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. But most say the Los Angeles campuses got into the game late.

And after years of unparalleled economic growth, some CSU administrators are concerned they may have missed the biggest gravy train in history.

"It would have been nice had [CSU] started fund-raising 20 years ago," said Bruce W. Flessner, a Minneapolis-based fund-raising consultant. "The '90s was a great time to raise money."

But even now, say fund-raisers, phenomenal opportunities await CSU. Deep-pocketed foundations, once founded only in the Northeast, have grown stronger in California. Organizations such as the Palo Alto-based Hewlett Packard Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund in San Francisco have taken leadership roles in university giving. Corporations have also started incentive plans for employees who wish to give to universities. Others have contributed cash, stock and equipment.

Campuses Lose Track of Alumni

Alumni outreach is the most difficult task for many campuses. About 40% of all university contributions come from Cal State graduates, parents and other individual donors. Administrators would like that figure to increase, but only a few Cal State schools have strong relationships with their alumni.

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