The governor’s proposed $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin System has UW-Madison officials looking more than ever at alternative solutions to compensate for the anticipated loss in state funds.
At a meeting of ASM’s Coordinating Council on Jan. 28, UW Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf, who previously taught at Northwestern University and was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, suggested that one way to offset cuts would be to look to alumni for increased support.
“It’s important that our alums do realize how increasingly important they are,” Mangelsdorf said. “For years, alums would love their public institutions, but the percentage of alumni who give at Wisconsin is far lower than at Northwestern because people think that they already gave their tax dollars. Part of what we have to do is [the] education of alums to let them know that we really do need their support.”
According to the UW System Red Book, UW-Madison only received 16.72 percent of its revenue from state funds in the 2013-14 school year, a lower percentage than the amount of gifts and contributions the university received, which was 17.64 percent.
In comparison to other peer institutions, UW’s reliance on donations for funding lies in the middle of the pack, with institutions like the University of Iowa that has 30 percent donations at the higher end of the list, according to Forbes.
While some UW officials suggested reaching out to alumni for increased support, UW Chancellor Blank, shortly after a $100 million gift from John and Tashia Morgridge was announced, highlighted the major caveat for any gift the university receives.
“Let me clear about what this gift doesn’t mean, however,” she wrote in her blog. “It doesn’t mean that we have $100 million in new money to spend. Endowment gifts spin off 4.5 percent in income each year. So a $100 million gift, once we’ve fully received all the money, means that there is $4.5 million per year available for us to spend.”
Alisa Robertson, chief development officer for the University of Wisconsin Foundation, which is responsible for engaging alumni and friends of the university to make philanthropic gifts, also sees the university relying more on contributions in the light of proposed cuts.
“I would say that philanthropic support for the university is becoming increasingly important,” Robertson said. “We used to be funded in large part by the state of Wisconsin. Over time, federal research support and philanthropy have played a greater role in the university’s overall budget.”
In addition to UW officials, some students are also beginning to persuade their peers to donate to the university, Robertson said, pointing to the Student Commencement Campaign that began two years ago, which has senior class members asking peers for donations in the spring.
Heather Kopec, who started the campaign two years ago, said that it attempts to make students and alumni know that every contribution, no matter the size, counts. She said contrary to popular belief, around 30 percent of gifts to the university are under $100.
“I think it’s a really important stance,” Kopec said. “It allows the seniors and students at UW to say ‘We’re not intimidated by what’s coming ahead, and we believe in the power of this university,’ and it’s letting everybody start making an investment in what a great university this is.”