UNC aims high in new fundraising campaign

Students mingle on the quad in front of the Wilson Library on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC, on Aug. 24, 2017.
Students mingle on the quad in front of the Wilson Library on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC, on Aug. 24, 2017.

UNC-Chapel Hill announced a drive to raise $4.25 billion by the end of 2022 in what is the largest campaign in the Southeast with the second-highest total among public universities.

In a celebration Friday and throughout the weekend, university leaders are unveiling a campaign that has been quietly underway for three years. Already, $1.75 billion has been pledged by 137,000 donors.

The money will go primarily to student scholarships, faculty support, new arts and science initiatives and expanded entrepreneurship programs.

By the end of the weekend, UNC officials will have announced more than $100 million in new donations, including a $50 million gift from the campaign chairman, John Townsend, and his wife, Marree Townsend, which will be divided among the Ackland Art Museum, College of Arts & Sciences, Kenan-Flagler Business School, athletics and other areas.

The university aims to raise $1 billion for student financial aid, a push labeled The Carolina Edge. The money will go toward a variety of scholarships for low-income and middle-income students, merit awards, summer internship grants, and graduate and professional students. Part of the money will shore up the university’s Carolina Covenant program, which provides debt-free education to eligible low-income students.

“We want to make sure that cost and debt are not limiting factors for any student to come to this special, exciting university,” Chancellor Carol Folt said Friday at the campaign kickoff, under a big white tent, attended by university leaders and major donors.

Part of the money will go to a revamped curriculum and new teaching methods, along with hybrid online and face-to-face instruction, Folt added, to meet the demands for today’s students.

Also announced Friday is the expansion of the Ackland Art Museum, with three art donations valued together at $41.5 million. Overall, arts is one focus of the fund drive. The university plans to boost spending on a campus arts initiative known as Arts Everywhere.

Another thrust will be the creation of a UNC Institute for Convergent Science, which will involve scientists from various disciplines working together on research with the goal of commercializing new discoveries and treatments.

Some of the money will go toward redesigning and renovating classrooms and labs, but the campaign is less geared to bricks and mortar than it is to scholarships, professorships and targeted new programs.

David Routh, vice chancellor for university development, said an initial goal of $3 billion-plus was increased because of strong momentum in the silent phase of the campaign.

Taking the lead from the country’s elite private universities, public universities are setting more ambitious donor goals. In an era of constrained state spending, public universities have to look to their alumni and supporters to stay competitive, Routh said.

“Ultimately it is about changing the financial model of a public university and helping that model more toward private support,” he said. “We have been very fortunate in the state, and we’re still very fortunate. We’re one of the lucky ones in America, to have the level of support we have from the state of North Carolina. But increasingly, private support is that margin to do new things, to make big new initiatives. It’s really the margin of excellence.”

The campaign kickoff was followed by individual announcements about museum and science gifts in the afternoon. A gala for big donors was scheduled Friday night, and the entertainment will continue Saturday with UNC’s home football game against Notre Dame.

Friday’s campaign launch was almost overshadowed by a long-awaited NCAA final investigative report into UNC’s academic and athletic scandal involving African studies classes that never met. The NCAA reportedly notified parties in the case Thursday that it would announce results from the UNC case – which could include sanctions – on Friday. By late Thursday, a UNC official announced that there would be no Friday release by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, “due to scheduling circumstances.”

UNC’s fundraising effort is the latest in a flurry of university campaigns either recently started or ended in North Carolina. N.C. State University is trying to raise $1.6 billion by the end of 2021. In June, Duke University concluded a campaign that raised $3.85 billion.

Routh said UNC’s goal would be the second-largest among U.S. public universities. The University of Washington is in the midst of a $5 billion campaign.

“We’re shooting for the stars with this campaign,” Routh said Friday.

UNC’s last capital campaign wrapped up in 2007, after bringing the university $2.38 billion in private donations.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill