Top American university kicks off $6.5 billion fundraising campaign

Harvard University publicly kicked off a $6.5 billion fundraising campaign on Saturday, an effort that, if successful, would be the largest ever in higher education.

The priorities that the campaign supports would result in a changed institution, one with a thriving Allston campus, a dramatically expanded School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, modernized student housing, a strengthened global presence, increased financial aid, and an arts and sciences faculty that has more resources to craft innovative educational experiences and to reach across disciplines for fresh insights on difficult issues.

Harvard today emerged from what fundraisers call the campaign’s “quiet phase,” during which the institution raises a portion of the total before the public launch. Harvard already has raised about $2.8 billion in gifts and pledges, leaving a target of about $3.7 billion.

The public kickoff included a series of events on campus, including a speech by Harvard President Drew Faust at Sanders Theatre; a question-and-answer session with Bill Gates, who left Harvard before graduating to found Microsoft Corp.; and a faculty panel at the Memorial Church on the new frontiers of knowledge.

Harvard’s last campaign, which concluded in 1999, raised $2.6 billion. In the years since, the University has been buffeted by the same financial storms that many others endured during the global financial meltdown. Harvard saw its endowment lose billions of dollars during the crisis, causing operating budgets to sink hundreds of millions into the red and forcing the rethinking of earlier University expansion plans in Allston.

The University’s endowment stood at $30.7 billion last year.

The campaign announcement comes at another time of financial uncertainty for higher education. Federal budget dollars, which fund a large portion of University research, are drying up, even as government officials and parents alike are casting a wary eye at rising tuition bills, leaving little room for higher education to make up lost dollars through tuition increases.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ledger, changes to the global higher education landscape are exerting pressure on universities to spend more. The advent of online learning, for example, prompted Harvard to join with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to launch edX, which offers online versions of classes at the two institutions and others for free to students around the world.

The Harvard Campaign is organized around several main themes, including interdisciplinary knowledge, teaching and learning, human capital, financial aid, global reach, innovation of all kinds, liberal arts and the humanities, basic research, and the physical spaces where all those things play out.

Officials say that, broadly speaking, 45 percent of the fundraising proceeds will go to research, faculty needs, and teaching and learning; 25 percent will go to financial aid and the student experience; 20 percent to buildings and capital projects; and 10 percent in flexible funding to foster new initiatives and faculty collaboration.

Specific priorities mentioned by University officials include development of Harvard’s Allston campus; expansion of the seven-year-old School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, whose classes are in high demand by students; renovation of the undergraduate Houses; and growth in innovative teaching and learning, as well as Harvard’s role in edX; support for the arts and the humanities; and basic research into energy, the environment, neuroscience, and stem cells.

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