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University fundraising outpaces Kansas budget cuts

By   /   July 23, 2013  /   1 Comment

HAIL MARY: University of Kansas officials say getting private donors to make up for state budget cuts is a hard sell. Donations to KU’s endowment in the last three years dwarf recent cuts by state legislators.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE — Since the end of the Kansas legislative session nearly two months ago, much has been said on both sides about the state’s reduction in spending at higher education institutions, chief among them being the University of Kansas.

But amid an atmosphere of austerity wherein KU stands to lose $13.5 million in state funds over the next two years, little has been said about the fact that the university’s endowment raised 3,100 percent more than that amount in the last three years alone.

And they won an award for it, too.

Standing next to the $432 million the Kansas University Endowment Association has received in donations since 2010, cuts implemented by state lawmakers seem like small potatoes. Yet because of those rollbacks, university officials have said the institution will need to reduce staff and increase tuition – even decrease the number of students admitted to some programs at KU Medical Center.

But Jack Martin, KU’s director of strategic communications, said it’s not a simple matter of replacing state dollars with private donations. For one, he said, private monies usually come with strings attached.

Funds are often earmarked for a specific purpose, such as replacing athletic equipment or establishing a scholarship fund. In long-term cases the money is invested, and the university uses the resulting interest to fund a given initiative.

Be that as it may, KU still has a thriving endowment operation, and they’ve got the money and awards to prove it. So why not solicit university benefactors to make up the shortfall in state funding rather than pass the cost – and the cuts – on to students and staff?

Martin says donors want to pay for progress, not upkeep. In other words, it’s sexier to sponsor a new scholarship or a scoreboard than to make sure the university’s heating and cooling units are up to snuff.

“It’s not the case where many donors are going to give to keep the lights on or pave the street. They want to give for scholarships or pay for research projects. It’s not the case where they can take donations and replace state funding of the basic operation of the university,” Martin said. “I think that’s a tough sell. What donors are looking for is to improve the university, not just help it stand still and make up for state cuts.”

According to the KU Endowment’s 2011 form 990 (the most recent available), the non-profit maintains assets in excess of $1.44 billion, with just over $106 million in liabilities.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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Travis Perry is an investigative reporter covering news and politics for Watchdog.org's Kansas bureau. Before joining the organization, Travis graduated cum laude from Washburn University and cut his teeth as news editor for the Osawatomie Graphic, where he received numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association.

  • willie

    I appreciate the story. I would better appreciate it if you would do a similar piece on all of the Regents Universities. I believe you would find similar by friends and alumni to all of them. While yes it is great that donors prefer to fund a chair or a scholarship or a field or a building that may carry their name, my guess would be that they really would like to do what is best for the institution. If that means some of the donation goes to fund general fund obligations then make a portion of each donation carry that responsibility. It would not take long to make up the money cut by the state.

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