Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Sept. 22, 2021

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In Our View: Cashing in on Advancement

Northwest universities’ fundraising efforts will ultimately benefit us all


What would you do with $200 million? $500 million? $1 billion? $5 billion?

The Pacific Northwest’s largest public universities are aiming to discover what they can do with this kind of money as they pursue mammoth fundraising campaigns. The total amount of money being sought is stunning — but, the universities say, so too will be the achievements.

This week the University of Washington formally announced a $5 billion campaign that has been quietly going on for a little more than three years. Already $3.1 billion has been raised for projects across all departments, from the medical school to intercollegiate athletics. On Tuesday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would give Washington $210 million to help build a facility to advance the health and well-being of people worldwide. When completed, the $230 million building will serve as a research hub for a health initiative to address poverty, access to health care, equity, and climate change, according to the Associated Press.

In Oregon, Phil and Penny Knight announced last week they would give $500 million to the University of Oregon, the largest gift in UO’s history. The latest round of giving by the Nike founder will go toward building the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The university envisions bringing in experts in fields such as robotics and engineering to team with biologists, biochemists and other scientists.

And you thought the Huskies and Ducks only competed in football.

Washington State University is in the hunt, too. WSU, which of course has a Vancouver campus that benefits from fundraising, last year ended a formal campaign that successfully raised $1 billion in honor of its 125th anniversary. The campaign reported receiving 819,149 gifts from more than 206,000 donors. The money supported 3,358 areas and funded 645 endowments, according to a scorecard on the WSU Foundation’s website. A new Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health is one of WSU’s newest jewels, and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is expected to accept its first students this fall in Spokane.

Finally, on Oct. 29, Oregon State University will break ground on an Oregon Forest Science Complex. Its mission is to showcase innovative uses of wood in building design and allow the College of Forestry to help meet the world’s growing demand for energy-efficient, tall buildings made from sustainable building products, according to the OSU Foundation’s website.

But wait. Aren’t all of these universities part of state government? Why do they need to be raising staggering sums of money from private donors?

The University of Washington answers it best: “While state support has increased since the end of the Great Recession, state funding per student is still far less than a generation ago. For example, in 1991, the state provided 80 percent of the funding per UW student (state support plus tuition revenue). Today, the state covers 32 percent of funding per student.”

And although many of the dollars will go toward programs and scholarships for students, a lot of these major initiatives lie at the heart of these large public universities’ associated missions of research and outreach. We rely on our great universities to make major breakthroughs in science, arts, engineering, medicine and to help solve vexing social problems. These campaigns are aimed at those missions, which benefit all of us.