Furman University raises $400M in decade-long campaign

Greenville NewsJanuary 7, 2014 

Duke Library - Furman University

Outlasting the most turbulent financial headwinds in decades, supporters of Furman University over the past seven years have rallied to top the school’s capital campaign goal of $400 million, putting the institution in a position to better serve its students, and the Greenville community, as it navigates the choppy waters ahead for private liberal arts schools, Furman officials said.

The university ended its “Because Furman Matters” campaign on Dec. 31 after raising $406 million, officials announced today. The campaign began quietly in July 2004 and went public in fall 2007 with $225 million already committed.

The contributions kept coming in as Furman went through four different presidents and has yet to name a permanent successor to Rod Smolla, who left last May.

“We hadn’t really anticipated having as many changes in the leadership,” Interim President Carl Kohrt told The Greenville News. “But I think the neat thing about that is that it’s the institution that people were investing in, with some satisfaction that the leadership was adequate to keep the institution thriving.

“But they were giving to what Furman meant to them and will mean to others going forward, not necessarily who was in the chair.”

David Shi was president when the campaign began, followed by Tom Kazee, who was acting president before Smolla took office in July 2010.

Furman officials said the campaign was the largest fund-raising drive ever by a private college in South Carolina and among the biggest at a liberal arts school in the nation. It focused on funding for scholarships, academic programs, enhanced student-life experience, renewed excellence in athletics, and expanded efforts in the Greenville community.

The campaign closes at a time when higher education, and particularly private liberal arts institutions, are facing challenges to attract students amid rising tuition and student-loan debt and increasing competition from non-traditional educational opportunities online.

It will be up to the new president to address those issues, but Kohrt said some cost-cutting measures are already under consideration to try to keep tuition down for Furman’s fewer than 3,000 students.

“You have to look on the cost side if you want others to help by sharing their wealth on an annual basis,” Kohrt said.

The gifts came from 27,250 donors, including 78 percent of Furman alumni and 81 percent of faculty and staff, with parents of Furman students contributing $48 million, he said.

The university is conducting its search for a new president quietly, and Kohrt said he will stay in the job until the new leader is named, which he said could come sometime during the semester that starts next Monday.

Two of the four presidents during the campaign, both of them alumni, donated more than $1 million each: Shi and Kohrt, according to Vice President for Development Mike Gatchell. Kohrt was chairman of Furman’s Board of Trustees when the campaign was announced.

The largest chunk of the money raised — 62 percent — will go toward the university’s endowment, which supports academic scholarships, programs and professorships, Kohrt said.

The school’s endowment grew from $380 million in 2004 to $623 million as of last November, officials said.

Furman’s endowment ranked 139th out of 843 higher education institutional endowments listed for fiscal year 2012 by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute.

Clemson University ranked 154th on the same list.

Seventeen percent of the campaign total has gone to facilities, including construction of the Charles H. Townes Science Center, the Herring Center for Continuing Education, renovation of the Trone Student Center and the Peace-Horton Football Complex, Furman officials said.

Another 21 percent is going to operating costs, which will take some pressure off reliance on tuition to fund day-to-day operations, they said.

About $2 million has gone to establish the Furman United Scholarship Fund, which so far has helped 165 students with financial needs, officials said.

Furman officials noted the importance of the campaign’s success not only for the institution but also for Greenville and the Upstate community.

In addition to the numerous community projects Furman students and professors are involved in, such as revitalization on Poinsett Highway and environmental studies by the Shi Center for Sustainability, the university offers a variety of courses to the public through its Herring Center for Continuing Education, one of the buildings financed through the campaign.

“This is a benefit to the university, it’s a benefit to the family that is associated to the university,” Kohrt said, “and it’s a great benefit to the Greenville community because they will be a direct recipient of both some of the funds and activities but also the graduates, many of whom stay in the Upstate and in the Greenville area in particular.”

A 2001 bequest from the estate of John D. Hollingsworth provided the cornerstone to the campaign, and the Duke Endowment, which has supported Furman for decades, chipped in $54 million, according to Mike Gatchell, Furman vice president for development.

“We are humbled by the generosity of the many individuals and organizations that have recognized Furman’s value to the nation’s higher education community, and have made this extraordinary success possible,” Kohrt said. “On behalf of the trustees I extend our deepest gratitude and thanks.”

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