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LOS ANGELES

Foundation to Give USC $100 Million

September 19, 2002|REBECCA TROUNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The University of Southern California announced Wednesday that it will receive a $100-million gift for its Annenberg School for Communication, the fourth donation of such size to the university in the last decade.

The gift from the Annenberg Foundation came at the same time as a $100-million donation for the University of Pennsylvania's communications school, which also bears the Annenberg name.

The funding is intended to help ensure that the "important work of the schools will continue into the next century and beyond," foundation President Leonore Annenberg and her daughter Wallis said in a statement.

The donation to USC is "another remarkable show of support for USC and for the city of Los Angeles from the Annenberg Foundation and family," USC President Steven B. Sample said. "We're delighted and very grateful."

Sample said the Annenberg gift will more than triple the existing endowment of $39 million at the school, which offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in communication and journalism.

He and other USC officials said it will fund initiatives at the school including an effort to encourage excellence and innovation in broadcast news, several new faculty positions and scholarships for students.

It also will pay for a new center for the study of journalism and democracy, which will be headed by Jay Harris, former publisher of the San Jose Mercury News.

Despite the influx, USC officials said, the school will spend its new funds relatively cautiously, with about $1.5 million to $2 million expected to be spent in the first year.

The USC and Penn gifts do not approach the standards set last year by Caltech, with a $600-million combined gift from Intel founders Gordon and Betty Moore and their foundation, or Stanford University's $400-million donation the same year from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

But they are noteworthy, given the current climate of economic uncertainty and recent stock market declines, education experts said, and

should cheer fund-raisers at colleges nationwide, as many struggle with booming enrollments, shrinking endowments and dwindling state budgets.

"These are magnificent gifts that will have a tremendous impact on the institutions receiving them, but also hearten a lot of others," said Vance Peterson, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, which tracks such gifts. "And they're especially noteworthy in this economy, when multimillion [dollar] gifts have been fewer and farther between."

The council has predicted that the fiscal year just ended will show a drop in donations to colleges and universities nationally for the first time since 1974.

Wednesday's announcement makes USC and the University of Pennsylvania the only U.S. higher education institutions ever to have received four such gifts, according to a list kept by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

"Guess we'd better get to work to find a fifth," Sample joked.

Peterson and others in higher education applauded Sample for his ability to raise the profile and reputation of a school once derided as the "University of Second Choice" and for his talent at persuading donors to give considerable sums.

The haul from a nine-year fundraising campaign--with an original goal of $1 billion--is $2.5 billion in cash and pledges. More than half of those gifts are from non-alumni, university officials said.

"I'd say he's perhaps the most successful fund-raising [university] president of all time," Peterson said. "He's looked up to by other presidents for what seems like a magic touch."

But Sample also may have benefited a bit by inheriting an institution that had never fully tapped its fund-raising potential, some said.

"In the last decade, USC has really become a major league player in fund-raising nationally and particularly in Southern California, and that was not true a decade ago," said Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose.

Until earlier this year, when Penn received a $100-million gift from the Philadelphia Health Care Trust, USC--and its president--had garnered considerable attention for its position alone at the top with three gifts of such size.

The experts pointed out that the Pennsylvania-based Annenberg Foundation, established by Walter H. Annenberg, has a long history of support for the two universities and their communications schools. Annenberg was U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper and founder of TV Guide.

Before the current gift, the Annenberg family and foundation had given USC donations totaling $188 million, university officials said.

The largest of those, a $120-million gift in 1993, helped create the Annenberg Center, a multidisciplinary program that explores the ways that communications technology affect education, law, science and other areas. Other gifts have funded faculty chairs.

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