NC State receives $50 million gift – the largest in school history

akenney@newsobserver.comSeptember 27, 2013 

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N.C. State University's bell tower was slated to get new bells in spring 2008.

ROBERT WILLETT — 2008 News & Observer file photo

  • NCSU’s largest non-anonymous gifts

    1. $50 million from the Park

    Foundation – 2013

    2. $40 million from the Poole

    family – 2010

    3. $20 million from the R.B.

    Terry Jr. Charitable Foundation

    – 2010

    4. $10 million from the Prestage

    family – 2012

    5. $10 million from Edward

    P. Fitts – 2006

— N.C. State University has received the largest single gift in its history – $50 million – to provide scholarships, the school’s administration and the Park Foundation announced Friday.

The donation puts the university closer to funding its most prestigious scholarships “in perpetuity,” said Chancellor Randy Woodson.

“The earnings from the endowment will ensure, as long as there’s an N.C. State University, that there will be a Park Scholars program that funds scholarships to the best and brightest students,” he said.

Until now, the Park Foundation – created by the late Roy Park, class of 1931 – has sustained the scholarship program with yearly grants. Friday’s announcement puts the scholarship in the university’s hands. NCSU plans to raise an additional $100 million and then fund the scholarships indefinitely with investment profits from the new pool of money.

The Park program provides about 45 full-ride, merit-based scholarships a year.

The gift is the high-water mark of Woodson’s three-year push to supplement public money and tuition with private backing. In his three years on the job, the university has grown its endowment almost 70 percent, to $769 million.

The chancellor shed “a few tears of joy” in his office when he heard this spring that the deal had been finalized, he said.

The $50 million sum matches the largest single gift ever received by rival UNC-Chapel Hill, and it should qualify for a spot on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of the largest private gifts to higher education, which ranges from $50 million to $600 million for single schools in the United States.

“You do not hear of (public universities), very often at all, getting gifts of that size,” said Rita Kirshstein, director of the Delta Costs Project on college spending. Schools have been looking for private resources, she said, because “state appropriations have plummeted.” Public schools, she said, “have gotten more aggressive in reaching out to alumni in general.”

Friends and alumni support

NCSU’s state budget appropriation fell by 11 percent between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2012. It has rebounded back toward pre-recession levels in the last year, but Woodson thinks the school should continue finding private supplements.

“This is another example that in a very difficult economy, when state funding for higher education is a challenge, that our friends and our alumni and supporters are working hard to provide the additional private resources that are needed to keep the university strong,” Woodson said.

And there’s little chance, he argued, that state legislators would simply see that new private money as a replacement for tax dollars.

“Given where we are relative to our peers across the county, I think we have a long way to go before we have such private funds that the state wouldn’t view funding as critical,” he said.

Scholarships sustained

N.C. State University has offered the Park Scholarships program since 1996, three years after Roy Park’s death at age 83. In his time, the Dobson native was an editor of the Technician student newspaper; a founder of Hines-Park Foods with its Duncan Hines cake mix; and the owner of a media empire.

He left more than 70 percent of his holdings to his charitable foundation, which he had established almost 30 years earlier, according to the university. The group gives money to public media and organizations that focus on the environment, animal welfare, poverty and sustainability.

Today the school considers the Park its equivalent of the UNC-CH’s Morehead-Cain Scholars Program. NCSU’s alumni center also is named after Roy and Dorothy Park, and the foundation sponsors a scholarship for Ithaca College. Friday would have been “one of the most exciting days of his life” if Roy Park was alive today, his daughter, Adelaide Gomer, said in a statement.

NCSU plans to maintain the number of students supported by the program at about 45 a class. The program includes a strong emphasis on charitable work, Woodson said; several of its scholars founded and continue to run the Krispy Kreme Challenge, the annual doughnut-fueled road race that benefits the N.C. Children’s Hospital.

“So many of the big things that have happened in the last 15 years at N.C. State have had the Park scholars’ fingerprints all over it,” said former recipient Neal Robbins, now legislative director for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The scholarship saved his family money, he said, and opened doors – including, literally, the doors to the Pentagon’s war room, where he met Hugh Shelton, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The university already is gearing up to find matching money for the scholarship endowment. The Park Foundation will continue to fund the scholarship with yearly grants, but the foundation and the university want the $50 million gift to become a self-sustaining fund within seven years.

And that effort, university officials hinted, could be part of a larger fundraising campaign.

“There will be more to come,” Woodson said.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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