Teacher Preparation

Schools of Education Tracking Down ‘Big Money’

By Julie Blair — November 22, 2000 11 min read

The dean of Harvard University’s graduate school of education has embraced the art of small talk in a world where psychometrics is all the buzz. Those conversations have paid off: Jerome T. Murphy helped raise $111 million for the education school between 1993 and 1999—a record high for the program.

Like many other education deans, Mr. Murphy has become not only the intellectual head of his school but its lead fund-raiser as well. Such an evolution illuminates the importance now being placed on fund raising for teacher-preparation programs and marks a turning point in the way such schools raise money. It has also left some deans grumbling that they’ve been saddled with additional responsibilities without the support needed to raise large sums of money.

Long discounted in universities’ efforts to bring in the “big money” from private donors, schools of education are starting to come into their own, garnering in some cases six- and seven-figure gifts from philanthropists, foundations, and corporations. Observers say such changes reflect a renewed interest in teacher quality, a solid economy, and savvy fund- raising practices.

This fall alone, rainmakers at both New York University in New York City and the University of California, Santa Barbara, brought in $10 million each for their education schools. Boston College’s teacher program received an anonymous donation of $5 million, following a $10 million gift in 1999.

Also last year, the University of Connecticut in Storrs drew $21 million, believed to be the largest single donation ever to a U.S. school of education. That announcement was made only months after the University of Southern California in Los Angeles received $20 million from two graduates of the education school. To be sure, only a handful of education schools are making such large hauls. Many are struggling to bring in even modest donations. Still, the gifts dozens of small and regional college and university teacher- preparation programs are significantly larger than those received five years ago.

For example, Longwood College in Farmville, Va., has raised nearly $7 million over the past three years for scholarships, according to Patricia P. Cormier, the president of the public institution. Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., expects to raise $1 million this school year for its education programs, up from a total of $250,000 over the past two years, said Robert E. Brown, the director of development for Purdue.

Funders “see that the schools of education are in a position to leverage what happens in public education,” said Brian Ibsen, the director of development at the Neag school of education at the University of Connecticut. “We’re seen as part of the solution.”

Reputation To Overcome

Schools of education have always had difficulty keeping up with the fund-raising efforts at schools of business, medicine, and law. Alumni are the main source of contributions to colleges and universities, and graduates of education programs typically earn salaries that are decidedly middle-class. Independently wealthy philanthropists are likely to give to their own alma maters, while foundation and corporate donors often have not perceived teacher-preparation programs as wise investments.

It isn’t that individual educators aren’t generous—they simply have less money to give, said Joseph Brosnan, the vice president for development and external affairs at Teachers College, Columbia University. Many write checks to their colleges, but it is rare to receive a pledge from a teacher that is worthy of an all-college press release, Mr. Brosnan said.

Moreover, graduates in other disciplines historically have paid little attention to their institutions’ teacher- education programs. Instead, they have given money to programs in which they participated and understood the impact of the work done.

Those aren’t the only challenges. Though many funders have long given high priority to K-12 and higher education, until lately most have not seen teacher-preparation programs as a means to instigate change in the broader education system. Instead, they donated money to K-12 after-school programs or opted to subsidize research projects conducted by a group of college scientists.

Many schools of education still “have a bad reputation,” said Joel C. Monell, the dean for administration and academic services at Harvard’s graduate school of education. “People see them as being part of the problem,” he said. “They think that schools of education don’t really have an impact on the real world.”

But the patterns of giving are changing. Over the past five years or so, concern about both the quality and quantity of teachers has entered the local, state, and national spotlights. As policymakers discuss solutions to regional and subject-matter teacher shortages against a backdrop of achievement gaps between minority and white students and a push for standards-based accountability, more and more funders are turning to schools of education for answers.

Philanthropic Support

Philanthropist Raymond Neag had long supported the United Way’s attempts to end hunger, aid refugees, and advance the arts, but when it came time to give away a substantial share of his fortune, he donated $21 million to the education school at the University of Connecticut in 1999, on top of the $1.5 million he gave in 1996.

“Unless you start early on with a good teacher, it is difficult to do more in life,” Mr. Neag explained.

Teachers, he added, are at ground zero for change. They touch the lives of thousands of children throughout their careers in ways that new computers, textbooks, and playground equipment cannot.

Other funders echo that sentiment. Providing money for high-quality teacher training, they say, is a long-term investment that pays off for generations.

Philanthropists who see the role teacher-training programs play in their local schools are even more enthusiastic about giving to the cause.

For years, many schools of education took little “ownership” of local public schools, education observers say. Colleges rotated student-teachers in and out of classrooms each semester without contributing much more to the buildings than an extra pair of hands and youthful energy.

Today, more and more schools of education are partnering with public schools to make them learning laboratories for new and veteran educators. Student-teachers and university professors have become part of the culture at many schools, sharing new research with K-12 educators and administrators and helping them improve instruction and administration.

Fund- raisers at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls sold their vision for an innovative early-childhood-education center to one alumna in part by pointing out that she would be aiding not only future teachers, but also the public school educators who would teach in the center, said Robert D. Koob, the president of the university. In addition, more than 100 children from the local community would benefit from the programs, he said.

The pitch worked. The philanthropist, Janice Freeburg Cannon, donated $1 million.

Fund-raisers then used her gift as leverage, convincing the Waterloo, Iowa-based R.J. McElroy Trust that it, too, should become a partner in a project. The organization matched the original gift, several others made contributions of $150,000 and $100,000, and nearby Allen College offered a free lease on the property.

The Waterloo public school district joined the team, and pledged to turn over more than $140,000 in state funding for the operation of the school in its first year. The $3 million Freeburg Early-Childhood Program is scheduled to open next fall.

Pooling funds enables donors to participate in longer, more intensive projects they otherwise might avoid, Mr. Koob said. It also provides them with a sense of security, as no one person or organization takes a huge risk if the venture fails.

“This is an example of how one gift by one of our alums, unearthed by the hard work of fund-raisers, snowballed into a project,” Mr. Koob said. “It is a remarkable partnership.”

The Harvard University graduate school attracted enough money to add 16 endowed chairs to its teacher- preparation program at the cost of $35 million by teaming up donors interested in that venture, said Sandy Sedacca, the dean of development and external affairs at the school.

“It wasn’t the classic model,” Ms. Sedacca said. “If your donor base is not yet at a level where multimillion-dollar donations come readily, you can think about people who have shared values.”

New Strategies

The partnership model is just one strategy fund-raisers at schools of education are using to bring in the big bucks.

Purdue University is working to create a niche preparing science, mathematics, engineering, and technology teachers. That, in turn, attracts specific donors worried about the future workforce, according to Mr. Brown, the school’s director of development.

For example, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. recently offered Purdue $75,000 worth of computer workstations. Lucent Technologies Inc., in Murray Hill, N.J., and the AT&T Foundation, based in New York City, also have been significant sources of revenue for Purdue.

Meanwhile, Boston College targets benefactors who have a specific interest in the research that is taking place in the school of education and involves them in projects as much as possible, said Mary Lou DeLong, the vice president for college relations.

“Many of the people giving seven-, eight-, and nine-figure gifts ... want to know you’re investing wisely,” Ms. DeLong said. “They want to be involved in laying [the project] out, how it will be used, and how it will work.”

Education schools are also renewing ties with their biggest fans: teachers.

Many fund-raisers assume that their graduates don’t have the money to give, or that the money they do have isn’t worth their time, said Ms. Cormier of Longwood College.

“People have to do their research,” she said. “Many of these individuals have invested well and have substantial savings. The first man who gave us $4 million was impoverished and from the boondocks of North Dakota.”

Roger and Barbara Rossier, who gave $20 million to the University of Southern California, are prime examples. The USC graduates started out as teachers and school counselors before opening their own school for youngsters with emotional disorders and learning disabilities, as well as pursuing other career ventures. (“Teacher Education in Calif. Lands 3 Windfalls,” Sept. 23, 1998.)

The economic good times of the 1990s have also helped in fund raising.

Overall spending by individuals, corporations, foundations, and religious organizations to 1,000 public and private colleges and universities increased dramatically between 1989 and 1999, rising from $8.9 billion to $20.4 billion, according to the Council for Aid to Education, a New York City-based nonprofit group.

The increase is the largest since the council began following the trend in 1955. The group does not specifically track donations to teacher-preparation programs.

“The stock market is booming, and a lot of colleges and universities have benefited,” said Jeff Ourvan, a spokesman for the council. “It is a safe assumption that schools of education are benefiting.”

Leadership Is Key

Despite all the fancy strategies, campaigns flop if they don’t have proper leadership.

College presidents, deans, and faculty members must all commit to spending both time and money in order to raise more of the green, fund-raising experts say.

Mr. Murphy, the Harvard dean, spent more than half his time raising money during the education school’s capital campaign. Ms. Cormier of Longwood College said she considers herself the “champion of teacher preparation.” The University of Connecticut, Teachers College, and NYU all have extensive development teams that dedicate all their time to raising money.

Nevertheless, many college presidents expect the dollars to flow without significant effort, said Penelope Earley, the senior director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington-based association that represents 735 public and private colleges and universities.

“I did a quick survey of 15 schools, public and private, and some deans are really angry that there is suddenly this increased expectation that they do a lot of fund-raising,” Ms. Earley said. “While it is appropriate for deans to do this, it should not be an add-on without relief from their other work.”

The big gifts to the University of Connecticut and other institutions have only intensified the pressure, said a dean who runs a school of education at a public university and did not wish to be named.

“The president says, ‘If they can do it, you can do it,’ ” the dean said. “I asked for help from one or more development officers, and if I could delegate some of my responsibilities to someone else. The answer was, ‘No, no, no, no.’ ”

The dean said he spends between 5 percent and 10 percent of his time on fund raising, yet he projects that his school will bring in no more than $40,000 in cash this year. “This is just terribly frustrating,” he added.

Schools of education that don’t play the fund-raising game may be hurt financially—if not now, then in the near future.

Colleges are scrambling to find new sources of revenue since states began decreasing their allocations to higher education in the 1980s, said Jamie P. Merisotis, the president of the Washington-based Institute of Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit organization that tracks trends in spending. Increasing tuition is a risky move, given public outcry against such actions, and the federal government continues to maintain a limited role in subsidizing higher education. That leaves fund-raising efforts to make up the difference.

“That’s why you are seeing increasing pressure ... on schools of education,” Mr. Merisotis said. “Schools that are unwilling or unable to do that will find themselves increasingly at a competitive disadvantage.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 22, 2000 edition of Education Week as Schools of Education Tracking Down ‘Big Money’


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