Tulane University has collected more than 60 percent of a $1.3 billion fundraising goal after six years of privately soliciting donations, officials said Friday — a triumph for a private university that faced multimillion-dollar deficits as recently as two years ago.
When the full fundraising goal — Tulane’s most ambitious ever — is realized, it will help the school take a more prominent place among universities of its size and standing elsewhere in the country, officials said.
“We’ve thrived, but always with fewer resources,” Tulane President Michael Fitts told supporters who gathered Friday for the launch of the public phase of the fundraising drive.
“But here’s the thing: I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of running a marathon from 15 yards behind.”
The hefty haul so far, at $820 million, goes far beyond where many Tulane officials imagined they might be at this stage, six years after the school began collecting contributions.
The haul includes $100 million from the Weatherhead Foundation to fund scholarships and support faculty positions, including endowing the first Presidential Chair.
Though news of the drive broke during Fitts’ first semester at Tulane in 2014, it actually well began before he took the university’s reins, officials said.
The $820 million includes money for some capital projects that Tulane has already built, such as the $20 million the Yulman family contributed for Yulman Stadium, which opened in 2014.
That gift was made after former Tulane President Scott Cowen campaigned hard for an on-campus football stadium.
In an interview Friday, Fitts refused to take credit for any part of the drive.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “The success that we’ve had, both as a university and in terms of the campaign, is because the alumni have stepped up to the plate. They love Tulane, and they understand what the possibilities are for Tulane.”
Close to a third of the haul will boost Tulane’s endowment of about $1.2 billion, which the university sees as low compared with those of peer institutions.
Ideally, the roughly 13,500-student Tulane should have more than $2 billion in its endowment fund, Fitts said.
By comparison, Vanderbilt in 2016 had about $3.8 billion, Rice about $5.3 billion, Emory about $6.4 billion, Georgia Tech about $1.8 billion, Georgetown about $1.5 billion, and Baylor and Wake Forest about $1.1 billion each. Harvard led the parade with $34.5 billion. Loyola University, whose campus is next to Tulane's, had $244 million.
Another 14 percent of the fundraising total is slated for capital improvements, including a new digital technology center, expansion of the Goldring/Woldenberg Business Complex and a new dining hall.
About 10 percent will go to the Tulane Fund, an unrestricted pool of cash the university draws from to meet urgent needs.
Nearly half will be allocated for other uses, such as the support of research and an increase in the number of endowed faculty positions at the university.
More than 54,000 donors have contributed to the drive so far, officials said.
Separately, Fitts said that Tulane has closed the annual $15 million to $20 million operating deficit the school had been running, mainly through a combination of voluntary buyouts and elimination of unneeded positions.
Tulane said in 2015 that it was seeking to cut between 90 and 110 positions by way of buyouts.
In fiscal year 2017, which began on July 1, 2016, the school was in the black, Fitts said. It began the 2018 fiscal year in the black as well and has not needed to lay people off.
Overall, the fundraising drive will ensure Tulane’s place “clearly as the most innovative university in the country,” a move that ultimately will benefit New Orleans, he said.
“There’s a famous line, by (former U.S. Sen.) Pat Moynihan: ‘How do you create a great city? You found a great university and wait 200 years,’ ” Fitts said.
“And our success is intimately connected with the success of New Orleans, and vice versa.”