New Territory: Cal Poly Pomona Launches Bold Fundraising Campaign
November 4, 2010 4:05 PMNot long ago, California's master plan for higher education was the global model. The University of California system advanced cutting-edge research and knowledge, the California State Universities prepared a sophisticated workforce capable of leading a high-tech society, and community colleges provided an accessible education.
The system worked. The state's investment in its people powered business, fueled innovation and propelled California into a knowledge-based economy. But as state support has waned, so has the limitless opportunity that public higher education once provided.
"Without adequate funding, the master plan isn't relevant anymore," says Cal Poly Pomona President Michael Ortiz. "A college education is the key to the American dream. But when we're dealing with the type of cuts we've faced over the years, it's impossible to provide the kinds of opportunities we once made possible."
Last year alone, the state budget crisis burdened the CSU system with a $584 million budget cut, which amounted to a 20 percent reduction at Cal Poly Pomona. Just a decade ago, the state provided more than $11,000 per student (in inflation-adjusted dollars) compared with $4,400 per student this year.
Early projections of the 2010-11 budget don't show much improvement.
Although the budget outlook is severe, Ortiz firmly believes Cal Poly Pomona will
reach new heights, providing a quality, hands-on education that is both affordable and accessible. However, his vision requires the university to change course.
"The good old days are over. We cannot expect to provide excellence on the funding we receive from the state," Ortiz says. "If we want to maintain and enhance the Cal Poly Pomona that we know and love -- the one that makes a difference in people's lives -- we need to take control of our financial future.
"To me, the choice is clear. We have to find external resources to ensure this university continues to provide the high-quality education we've become known for. The reputation we've all worked to build is at stake. If we do nothing, we will fall into mediocrity, and no one wants that. We are already under siege, facing crowded classrooms and struggling to maintain the hands-on learning opportunities that make our students great contributors to the workplace and the state while increasing fees until a degree appears out of reach."
Private universities have relied on major fundraising campaigns for generations. They rally supporters who lift their university to new heights and turn ambitious visions into reality. However, it's a new concept to public universities, which have enjoyed the state support they needed until the late 1990s, says Scott Warrington, vice president for university advancement.
"There's still a misconception that a state university gets all the resources it needs from the state," he says. "That's not the case anymore. You've also got to remember we're a polytechnic university. Our hands-on learning environment comes at a price."
Cal Poly Pomona must keep pace with industry demands by preparing students for the modern workplace using the latest technologies and equipment, he adds. Without external support, it is a challenge considering the dramatic advances in science and technology.
Cal Poly Pomona laid the groundwork for its first major fundraising campaign by hiring the consultant group Grenzebach Glier and Associates in 2008. Consultants found the university enjoyed robust support, particularly in Southern California. They also assessed the university's readiness for the effort, recommending an increase in fundraising and support staff, and launching branding efforts to strengthen the university's identity.
Cal Poly Pomona recruited alumnus Robert Balzer to serve as executive director of the comprehensive campaign. Balzer says his time on campus was the foundation for his later success as publisher of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and San Bernardino Sun newspapers.
A team of high-powered executives volunteered to helm the campaign's Steering Committee, headed by Panda Restaurant Group Chairman Andrew Cherng. The seven committee members guide major fundraising initiatives, develop strategies and act as ambassadors to promote Cal Poly Pomona.
"Every single member of our Steering Committee is a first choice," Balzer says. "They are very successful people at a national level. They understand the importance of the campaign and appreciate the impact the university has
had in their professional lives."
The large scale of fundraising campaigns requires that they roll out in stages. Core supporters make lead gifts, which build energy for the campaign before it
expands in scope. Throughout the multiyear effort, faculty, staff, students and alumni will be asked to play a role.
The university has gained momentum in advance of the campaign. Administrators believe the ambitious target of $150 million appears well within reach.
"The campaign goals are a nice thing to aspire to, but it's not about the money," Warrington explains. "The campaign is about all we can accomplish with it. This is about a vision for the university 10 years out, 25 years out."
Warrington and his team in University Advancement are aware they are launching the operation during challenging times. They have been forced to leave numerous
positions unfilled and adjust branding strategies to reflect stark budgetary restrictions.
"There's never a perfect time to start a campaign, just like there's never a perfect time to start a family," Warrington says. "We've had to change our game plan, but people are still giving. The recession doesn't change how people feel about what we do at the university."
Last academic year, Cal Poly Pomona celebrated a record fundraising year, bringing in more than $27.4 million in gifts, pledges and bequests. About $8 million came in the form of outright gifts.
"The response to date has been very encouraging. We nearly doubled our first-year projections," Balzer says. Although the university is still in early stages of the
campaign, initial support from lead donors couldn't come at a better time.
Despite diminished state support and the soaring costs to run a polytechnic university, Cal Poly Pomona is filling a dire need for more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
A 2005 report published by the National Academies warns that if the United States fails to produce more graduates in the STEM disciplines, Americans will be unable to compete against China, India and other emerging economic powerhouses.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger advocated the training of 100,000 new STEM teachers within the decade, and President Obama announced an expanded partnership among federal agencies and public universities to double the number of science and math teachers trained annually by 2015. The CSU is among 41 institutions working to meet the workforce demands.
As a CSU with a polytechnic emphasis, Cal Poly Pomona is well suited to reach goals such as these, Ortiz says. For years, the university has established programs to spark children's interest in the sciences and guide them through college and even graduate school. Teachers also receive specialized training and support.
"We can do great things. We can train a workforce that can power our economy. We can keep a college education within reach for everyone regardless of their ethnic and socioeconomic background. But we can't do it alone."