UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State junior Yaayaa Hunt sat in a small room with high-ranking university officials at The Penn Stater Hotel Conference Center.
University brass was there to reveal Penn State collected $2.158 billion in its seven-year fundraising campaign, For the Future, smashing previous giving records here and topping its own goal of $2 billion.
Hunt was also there because of that giving. Without it, and the scholarships funded by those donations, the Washington, D.C., native wouldn’t be at Penn State at all.
“My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college,” Hunt said. “I knew I wanted to go here, but it was just a battle.”
Penn State officials said undergraduate scholarships, like the one helping Hunt pursue her dream, were the top priority of the campaign, and the university collected $519 million to help fund them.
For the Future also raised $783 million toward Penn State’s endowment, $175 million for its Commonwealth campuses, and $175 million to endow faculty positions and programs, according to the university’s numbers.
With the efforts, Penn State doubled the amount collected in its last seven-year drive, became one of only 12 public universities in the country to exceed $2 billion in a fundraising campaign, and convinced more alumni to donate along the way than in any other campaign in the nation.
University President Rodney Erickson, who along with his wife made a $1 million contribution just last week, said the university will “thrive for generations” because of the support.
“Our donors’ tremendous support of For the Future has already helped transform Penn State and placed it in the top echelon of global universities,” Erickson said in a statement. “From creating new scholarships to funding groundbreaking research to allowing our faculty to innovate in the classroom, For the Future has enhanced every aspect of a Penn State education, and we have our donors’ visionary support to thank for this dramatic and widespread impact.”
Hunt, for one, doesn’t need to be reminded of the impact.
The first-generation Penn State student was accepted to the university and committed even though she wasn’t sure how she could afford to attend. It wasn’t until later that she would find out scholarships were available to her that would pave the way.
“It was a leap of faith,” she said.
“I didn’t want to let my spot go. I wanted to make sure, somehow, some way, I’m a Penn Stater. The support they were able to provide really did make a difference. At the end of the day, my parents didn’t have to pay a dime out of pocket. My dream came true.”
Those dreams are what For the Future Campaign Chairman Peter Tombros sees when he looks at the money collected.
“The most important aspect of our campaign was about students,” Tombros said. “The campaign just always continued to resonate very well with our donors. They were there for our students.”
More than 91,000 new individual scholarships and awards were distributed to students during the course of the campaign. Among those receiving scholarships were more than 16,000 students who are the first generation in their families to attend college.
Rodney Kirsch, senior vice president for development and alumni relations, said the focus on students helped fundraisers continue to collect during difficult times, including an economic downturn, and the Jerry Sandusky scandal that rocked Penn State toward the end of the campaign.
“Seven years is a long time to forecast anything,” he said “But if you’ve got a good institution, you’ve got a strong story to tell, you have credibility with your donors, you have people generous and passionate about you, you’re going to do well regardless or the hurdles or unforeseen circumstances that come your way.”
Krisch said some alumni came forward with more support during those hard times.
“I think it’s a story of resilience, but also remarkable loyalty,” he said. “It’s really amazing when you look at the sheer numbers.”
The campaign will officially close June 30, but officials announced the totals Saturday with activities on campus.
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carroll reporter.