UC Davis reaches $1 billion fundraising goal

It had the look and sound of a campus rally, with students passing out blue-and-gold pom poms, and a thundering pep band playing on the quad. On Friday, UC Davis leaders cheered after the university collected $1 billion – the fruits of a seven-year fundraising campaign that will support everything from research to professors to scholarships.

The Campaign for UC Davis contributions came from 102,600 donors, and more than half of the money was given by California residents. Contributors from the Silicon Valley, one of the few places that seemed immune to economic woes during the recession, gave the largest share at $148.9 million.

Donors contributed from 38 countries and all 50 states. Donors from Yolo County alone provided $53 million, say university officials.

Officials said the infusion is poised to transform a campus with top-tier aspirations.

Nearly half the money, $462 million, will go to student and faculty scholarships, research and instruction. The second largest share, $211 million, will go toward patient care, while $108 million will be poured into capital projects.

The largest single contribution came from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which gave $100 million for a new nursing school, whose first students enrolled in fall 2010.

UC Davis collected the funds just as state support for public universities waned. State leaders slashed funding for education and most other public services as they tried to bridge massive budget deficits during the recession.

Between 2006-07 and the current school year, tuition and campus fees at UC Davis have soared 83 percent from $7,576 to $13,896, according to UC Davis Office of Resource Management and Planning documents.

Like other universities, UC Davis offsets that sticker price for families based on need. Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said Friday the donations mean that, alongside other financial-aid programs, more than half of UC Davis’ 33,000-plus students will be able to attend tuition-free. Nearly 1,500 scholarships and fellowships were funded through the effort, more than 1,000 of those newly created, say university officials.

“This is mostly for our students,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, over the sounds of a university pep band playing in the quad. “This makes me exceptionally proud.”

But Brett Lemke, a fifth-year anthropology student, remains skeptical of the influx of private money into UC Davis and doubts the massive fundraising effort will find its way to students. He has endured the rising costs of a UC Davis education, living in low-income housing and penciling out tuition and other expenses at $5,600 a quarter. He expects tuition, housing and other fees to continue to rise even with the flood of money.

Decades ago, “there was a great promise made to students that tuition will be free as a public university,” Lemke said. “Now it’s a university for those who can pay. They want to have the largest private university in California, and they’re effectively doing it at the expense of students.”

The fundraising campaign continues through May and against the backdrop of another budget tussle between the University of California and Capitol leaders.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a budget earlier this year approving a $142 million increase in UC funding, with an additional 5 percent increase if the UC doesn’t raise tuition. But new University of California President Janet Napolitano suggested this week that UC needs $120 million beyond what Brown’s plan calls for.

At a Thursday meeting of UC regents in San Francisco, Brown signaled that lawmakers are unlikely to approve the second increase Napolitano wants. Nonetheless, regents approved a budget that assumes the UC system will get the money.

Katehi acknowledged that Friday, saying UC Davis “will work very hard to have the state support us. At the same time, we have needs that can’t be met through state funds.” The chancellor said the money will address pressing needs on a growing – and aging – campus.

“The campus is growing – we’re adding 1,500 more students – and the students have needs. We have a lot of temporary buildings. Our library needs to transform – it’s a library of the ’80s. There are a lot of academic needs,” she said.

Although the university has reached its $1 billion funding milestone, there are plans for another effort, said Shaun Keister, president of the UC Davis Foundation and a university vice chancellor for alumni relations.

“Philanthropy doesn’t replace state money, but these are ‘margin-of-excellence’ dollars,” he said. “It allows us to go from good to great.”