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Students enjoy the trees changing color on Libe Slope.

October 24, 2021

Cornell Announces Plan to Raise $500 Million for Financial Aid

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In a virtual event on Thursday, University President Martha Pollack announced the launch of “To Do the Greatest Good,” a new campaign aiming to raise $500 million for undergraduate financial aid.

The event consisted of pre-recorded speeches to alumni from Pollack, members of the Board of Trustees and Cornell professors with an introduction by undergraduate trustee Selam Woldai ’23. 

Pollack laid out the campaign’s goals early on in the program, citing three main factors that prompted the campaign’s launch.

“For us to remain true to our Cornell mission and competitive with our peers, we need to do more to honor that commitment,” she said. “We need to increase the number of lower and middle income students at Cornell to ensure that they have the same opportunities here as their non-aided peers and to reduce the amount of debt that they bear when they graduate.”

According to Pollack, the money raised would help support the University in its three main goals: educating future leaders, addressing major world problems and increasing Cornell’s global public engagement. She also said that Cornell hopes to expand its work in New York City.

She noted that this campaign fits into a larger goal of the Board of Trustees to raise $5 billion, with $3 billion reserved for Cornell’s Ithaca campus, $1.5 billion for Weill Cornell Medicine and $500 million for Cornell Tech. 

This campaign launch follows over two years of undergraduate difficulties receiving financial aid, culminating in student protests and S.A. debates

After President Pollack’s speech, Robert S. Harrison ’76, chairman of the Board of Trustees, spoke on the engagement goals of connecting with 200,000 alumni, or 80 percent of all living alumni, by the campaign’s conclusion in 2026. Through attending alumni events, volunteering and making donations, 140,000 alumni have already contributed to this engagement goal, with 25,000 alumni connecting during the pandemic. 

Harrison stated that the University has already obtained $2.6 billion of the $5 billion goal dollars, $223 million of which will be put entirely towards the undergraduate financial aid goal. 

Harrison concluded with a call to action to all those tuning in, asking them to contribute to the campaign. 

Ezra Cornell ’70, the great great great grandson of the University’s founder, highlighted the humble beginnings of his namesake and their ideological relevance to current students. He outlined how his ancestor found success through a telegraph company and how his purpose truly was “to do the greatest good.” 

“I think he understood that he could ignite something by his example and by encouraging others,” Cornell said.

Between the campaign-specific presidential and donor speeches, the video included presentations from several Cornell professors and spoken word poet Lamin Johnson ’21 discussing the future of the University across different fields. 

Prof. Verity Platt, classics and history of art and visual studies, spoke on the importance of engaged learning at Cornell. She talked about studying the classics for a modern era and developing hands-on methods in her department.

“One might think that the study of classics, which is traditionally about studying what is the best or the highest in value culturally or aesthetically, is at odds with this idea of ‘any person, any study,’” she said. “But the way that we study the ancient world today is very much about thinking about the broader range of ideas and experiences that comprised life [then].”

Prof. Praveen Sethupathy ’03, biomedical sciences, spoke on his work as director of the Center for Vertebrate Genomics and the relevance of scientific progress to Cornell culture. 

“Cornell is creating a culture where we’re not just doing our work in our ivory towers and letting someone else worry about how the rest of the world understands and appreciates it,” he said, “But rather, [it is] encouraging us to go out into the community.”

Johnson, who formed the Unchained Poetry Group for Black poets during his time at Cornell, delivered an original spoken word poem about the potential of the Cornell community.

All of the speakers emphasized the importance of Cornell’s adaptation to future needs. Pollack expressed how the fundraising campaign could support it.

“Today’s challenges demand a particular kind of ethos and a particular kind of education — one that, while contemporary, is still designed for any person and any study,” she said.