Editorial: ‘Project You Can’

Last week, University of California President Mark Yudof promised thousands of high school students in Fresno that attending a UC is both affordable and possible.

“Project You Can” is Yudof’s request that the 10 UC campuses heighten their efforts to collectively raise $1 billion in scholarship money in the next four years. Essentially he’s asking them to try harder.

There’s nothing wrong with asking. However, Yudof is asking for a bit much, and in doing so, making an empty promise to both current and potential students.

Take our university, for instance. According to University Relations, UC Davis raked in $5 million in donations last fiscal year. Assuming that the other campuses, on average, raise roughly the same amount, that puts the entire UC system at a current fundraising amount of approximately $50 million. At the rate we’re going, in four years we will have raised $200 million in donations, given the economy stays about where it is now – and it won’t.

At the rate Yudof wants us to go, UC would have to raise five times that $200 million number to hit the goal set through Project You Can in one of the harshest financial climates California has ever seen, split amongst 10 campuses.

It is possible. According to Chancellor Linda Katehi, the president of University of Southern California set a similar goal for his campus, which resulted in the school increasing donations almost ten-fold over approximately 20 years. But USC, a private school, is also in the 98th percentile of college endowment assents, according the National Association of College and University Business Officers. USC also had the advantage of a reputation of prestige and a friendlier economic climate during that timeframe.

From 2007 to 2008, USC earned approximately $3 billion in endowments. That’s three times the amount Yudof wants to raise by 2013.

Also according to the NACUBO endowment study, the UC system as a whole had a percentage change in endowment from 2007 to 2008 of minus 3.4 percent. We’re not on the path to success in receiving donations, and as the state anticipates another $20 billion deficit next year, that path will only get rockier.

That’s not to say that raising scholarship money can’t be done, because it can. And it’s not to say that it shouldn’t be done, because students could use all the help they could get. However, Yudof should be more realistic with his goals, and not make promises simply because his public image is reaching Bush-esque proportions.

On the other hand, Katehi believes the billion-dollar goal is feasible only if the university adopts a different attitude and extends its reaches further.

For example, UC Davis alone only receives donations from 16 percent of alumni, according to Katehi. She believes that we not only need to reach to more alumni, but also those who did not attend UC Davis but still believes in the causes the university researches and supports.

This is an innovative and progressive thought and we fully support anyone with the means to donate to students in need. However, we are critical of Yudof’s plan because it shows that he is truly unwilling to make concrete changes that would assist all students affected by the impending fee increases.

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