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New financial aid fundraising initiative sees early success

In light of economic downturn, Tufts tries to cope with rising need

Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 08:10

“In peer groups, I’d go to meetings and everyone would be huddling, saying, ‘I know this isn’t sustainable but we had to do it,’” he said. “To Tufts’ credit, we were very sober during that frenzy and said, ‘We could do it, [but] we don’t think its sustainable or good policy,’ so we held steady [at $40,000].”

Now, the economic realities have forced many universities to backtrack on their aid. Wesleyan University ended its need-blind policies this admissions cycle and Cornell University reversed its policy of providing grants to students with incomes of $60,000 to $75,000 this past summer, according to the Globe.

Coffin maintained that long-sighted pragmatism in both realms of grants and need-blind policies have helped both Tufts’ image and its financial situation.

University President Anthony Monaco may not be able to prioritize financial aid in the same way as Bacow, but he has not forgotten it. The university has embarked on a two-year financial aid initiative, which aims to bring in $25 million. In the start of its second fiscal year that began this July, it has already gathered $17.5 million, well above half of the target.

“Tony is saying, ‘We can’t wait for the next [capital] campaign, we have to do something now,’” Harris said. “We’ll be in a full-blown, university-wide campaign before long, and I don’t think it’s too much of a scoop to [say] that financial aid is going to be a significant part of it.”

This financial aid initiative is distinct from a capital campaign, which must be laid out in the Strategic Plan and approved by the Board of Trustees. It raises money for the university’s endowment more generally, and is occurring at an appropriate time between capital campaigns, following the $1.2 billion Beyond Boundaries campaign’s termination in 2011.

This financial aid initiative, however, is unique, according to Christine Sanni, executive director of advanced communications and donor relations at the University Advancement office. The university is now offering to match new endowed gifts of $100,000 as an incentive for new donors.

“The matching initiative has worked amazingly well,” she said. “It’s been a wide variety of people, including some new donors who have made smaller gifts before. They felt that the university cared about financial aid, so they wanted to help.”

Sanni explained that an endowed gift, as opposed to an annual gift, goes into a fund that generates interest in the endowment that is intended for a specific purpose — financial aid, for example. Since the beginning of the initiative, 42 new endowed scholarships have been created, along with 174 new gifts to existing funds as of this week.

Jeannie Diefenderfer (E ’84), member of the Board of Trustees for the School of Engineering, is a returning donor. She said that she created her endowed scholarship in 2008 and decided to add to it because of the significant difference she saw the matching program could make.

“Tufts is my most important philanthropic priority and, consequently, it is the largest gift I give within my means,” she told the Daily in an e-mail.

Diefenderfer cited her own experiences as a student on financial aid at Tufts as a strong factor in her decision to donate.

“My four years at Tufts as an undergraduate were one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. “My scholarship is a small way for me to give back so that others like me can benefit from a Tufts experience, both in its education quality and the opportunity it creates for a student to have a transformational experience.”

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