Harvard asks donors for $6.5 billion

BOSTON, Sept 21 Sat Sep 21, 2013 2:29pm EDT

BOSTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Harvard, the richest university in the United States, announced on Saturday it will seek to raise some $6.5 billion in donations to fund new academic initiatives and bolster its financial aid program.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based university has already raised $2.8 billion from more than 90,000 donors during the pre-launch phase of the campaign, its first major fundraising drive in more than a decade, it said in a press release.

The money will help Harvard, ranked America's No.2 university behind Princeton by U.S. News & World Report this year, "ensure its leadership role in the rapidly shifting landscape of higher education", it said.

Nearly half of the money will support teaching and research initiatives, while a quarter will be used to fund financial aid and related programs. The rest will go toward capital improvements and a flexible fund, Harvard said.

Harvard Provost Alan Garber said in an emailed statement that donating to the university was a way for people "to improve the world and advance causes they care about."

Harvard already has an investment portfolio worth around $30.7 billion, roughly the size of the annual gross domestic product of the Baltic nation of Latvia.

That endowment shrank 0.05 percent in the fiscal year ended in 2012, after double-digit gains the previous year, according to the most recent figures from the university.

A Harvard spokeswoman did not immediately comment on why the universtity required the donation drive in order to fund the new initiatives.

Four years ago Harvard was forced to suspend its campus expansion and put the construction of a $1 billion science complex on hold after its endowment lost 27.3 percent during the financial crisis.

The science building was slated to be the cornerstone of an ambitious 50-year expansion plan designed to increased the campus size by 50 percent.

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