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As tuition goes up, the PSU Foundation triples its private donations over five years

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Juanita Bibian and Hanan Buathab, both students at Portland State University, study for a class in January at the School of Business Administration. A remodel of the building will break ground this fall in part through $19 million in private donations.

Portland State University Foundation just posted its fifth straight year of rapid growth in private donations, a trend that is being repeated nationwide as fundraising becomes an increasingly important part of higher education.

The PSU Foundation saw an 18 percent increase in private donations to $46 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30. In 2010, when CEO Françoise Aylmer was hired to head up the public charity, private donations were a third of that at $12.8 million.

“The secret sauce boils down to: we’re engaging, we’re sharing our story and they’re seeing the value in it,” says Kristin Coppola, the PSU Foundation’s executive vice president of development.

Last year’s merger, which brought PSU University Advancement and PSU Alumni Relations into the PSU Foundation, also seems to have made a big difference, according to Coppola.

“For us, it was an efficiency,” she says.

While a majority of the gifts will go to scholarships, the urban university is also planning two major rebuilds. The Stott Recreation Center is being rebuilt into the Viking Pavilion and a new Academic Center with $14 million in donated money. The new School of Business Administration building will break ground this fall with $19 million in donations.

PSU is still small potatoes when it comes to other major public universities in the state, though.

The University of Oregon reports its total assets at $947 million with total university spending at $99 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Oregon State University completed The Campaign for OSU at the end of 2014 with a staggering $1.14 billion raised in donations for scholarships, fellowships, facilities, research and programs.

The increasingly large bank accounts mark a move from the sleepy endowments when grandma passes away of yesteryear to today’s much more active solicitations of college alumni.

“There’s increasing recognition that higher education is the lever for people to improve their station in life,” Coppola says. But she adds that like many universities, PSU’s costs have risen considerably in recent years, leading to rising tuition rates. “PSU is turning to philanthropy so that the students don’t have to bear all the costs. ... There’s been a real emphasis on scholarships for students because of the increasing cost of college degrees.”

PSU tuition rates will rise again this year. The board voted July 31 to increase tuition by 3.1 percent, but that was less than the anticipated 4.2 percent increase thanks to additional state funding.

Coppola says the PSU Foundation plans to keep growing.

“Our feeling is we’re not the biggest,” she says. “We’re not raising the money at the rate of the other institutions. Yet.”

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