“As funds have been cut across the board, as we see support drop,” said Gregory Fitch, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, “it is important to work together to build fundraising to support institutions of higher learning.”
Fitch said that given the downturn in state support, foundations are playing a critical role in public institutions, providing funds for needs from construction to scholarships.
JSU’s foundation, like those of most public institutions, exists solely to support the vision and mission of the university, said Charles Lewis, vice president for university advancement and executive director of the foundation.
The organization raises money for JSU and manages donations, receipts and assets, and ensures any gifts designated for a particular purpose remain in the proper fund. As a federal-tax- exempt, nonprofit organization, the foundation, Lewis said, has its own board of directors and is careful to maintain a separation from the university. All university officials who also serve on the foundation board are designated as ex-officio members and have no votes in foundation business.
Currently the foundation, which holds about $30 million in assets, is studying the feasibility of a capital campaign that could include a number of major projects, including a new music performance facility, upgrades for Ramona Wood Hall, the home of the College of Education and Professional studies, improvements at various athletic facilities, and endowed scholarships and professorships. All of the items being considered for funding, he said, are part of the university’s strategic plan, which the board of trustees approved in 2011.
The document is intended “to move the university forward as a learning-centered university,” Lewis said. “That then creates funding priorities and possibilities, so now is an exceptional time to start for JSU — the potential is incredible.”
University President Bill Meehan said that public institutions like JSU are just beginning to develop fundraising practices that private schools have been very good at for a long time. If the foundation undertakes a capital campaign, it will be the third since it first attempted a campaign in 2004.
“We have to find other ways to develop resources to fund the goals and ambitions of the university,” Meehan said of the current state of funding. Meehan began teaching biology at JSU in 1977. At that time, he said, the institution received almost 60 percent of its funding from the state. Now, that figure is about 33 percent, he said.
Since 2007, state appropriations for higher education have declined across the board. Two-year colleges in the state saw funding fall from about $381.5 million to the $316.1 million slated for the current fiscal year, a drop of 17 percent.
Universities have seen total funding drop from $1.2 billion to $1 billion over that same time period, a 16 percent reduction.
During that same time, JSU’s foundation has increased its funding for university programs. In 2007, the foundation disbursed nearly $548,000 for scholarships and other funding requests. By 2011, the most recent year for which records were available, the foundation doled out more than $1.2 million, a good portion of which went to scholarships, according to Lewis. This amounts to a 120 percent increase over five years.
But the help provided by foundations will only go so far, according to Brian Flahaven, director of foundation programs at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, a Washington-based group for schools and professionals who work to advance those schools.
“Something our members have had to remind both state lawmakers and even their institution colleagues of is that private support is not meant to take the place of public support,” he said.
Flahaven said the level of funds that can be raised through private support is not nearly the level needed to run an institution’s operations.
Instead, he said, the role of private support is to provide a “margin of excellence” — increased funding that will take an institution to the next level.
This idea is something that resonates with Lewis as well. “If we’re going to move this university to the next level and build on the legacy we have had,” he said, “we’ve got to have private funds.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.