March 9, 2005

Cornell Donations Rank Third in U.S.

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Receiving $386 million, Cornell came in third last year for total contributions to colleges and universities, surpassed only by Harvard and Stanford. Last year, total contributions to colleges and universities nationwide came to $24.4 billion, an increase of $800 million, according to the New York Times.

The 22 percent increase in Cornell contributions included a $50 million bequest from George Cornell, a benefactor to the University. Of this gift, $25 million has been designated for the new life sciences building, and another $15 million will go toward an endowment used by the provost for faculty recruitment, according to Inge T. Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development.

“Cornell alumni are very generous and very active; Cornell is number one in the amount of giving by alumni,” said Simeon Moss ’73, deputy news service director.

From figures provided by Moss and Reichenbach, about 75 percent of contributions came from alumni and friends, $183 million and $109 million, respectively.

Around 25 percent of contributions were received from foundations, corporations and other organizations, $33 million, $43 million, and $18 million, respectively.

“In general, Cornell receives the largest percentage of gifts from alumni,” Reichenbach said. The gifts support student scholarships, financial aid, continuing need-blind admissions and attracting faculty and graduate students.

The $15 million of the bequest will be used for the New Life Sciences Initiative in paying for the hired faculty and set-up costs.

“These funds are absolutely critical because we are competing for the very best faculty against other institutions,” said Prof. Kraig A. Adler, neurobiology and behavior, and vice provost for life sciences. He said that many faculty hired in the 60s and 70s are nearing retirement resulting in a need for new faculty. He explained that lab set-up costs for junior faculty typically run several hundred thousand dollars and for senior faculty, these costs can exceed $1 million.

Costs depend on equipment needed, renovations, the number of graduate students needed, and temporary funds for a faculty member to start a research program. Adler said that the funding also affects undergraduates by providing opportunities for working with a professor in a laboratory.

“The Cornell education, it costs twice as much to educate a student as we charge tuition (sic), because of the research going on, athletic programs, buildings and special things that make for great opportunities. This is also true for other private institutions,” Reichenbach said.

Giving fluctuates from year to year, depending on many factors, including the economy and stock market. “Gifts come because people feel a connection to something and want to support it,” Reichenbach said.

Chris Reilly, associate director of gift planning, said that about 25-30 percent of gifts to the university go through the office of gift planning, which serves to advise donors or perspective donors.

“We are definitely affected by tax implications of giving, whether tax benefits are reduced or enhanced has a large effect on what we do and potentially how much donors give.”

Current pending legislation regarding charitable giving includes the CARE Act of 2005, which includes a provision to allow charitable tax-free giving from IRA accounts for older donors.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Senior Writer