Supporting higher education pays dividends

Susan A. Anderson is chairwoman of the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Trustees and President and CEO of the CIRI Foundation. Photo by Philip Hall

Every single day, as President and CEO of The CIRI Foundation and as chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Alaska Foundation, I proudly do what I love: open pathways to education for thousands of Alaskans.

I am Alaska Native, of Tlingit heritage, and was raised by two teachers. I have come to believe education is the best dividend you can pay.

Education not only changes individual lives, the ripple effect changes families, communities and society as a whole. Educated citizens engage in tackling our state’s challenges, both big and small. They invent new technologies, innovate in a variety of ways and give back to others.

We have a robust higher education system in Alaska that strives to serve all corners of the state in preparing young people for the future. The University of Alaska offers a dizzying array of programs from certificates in advanced welding and small business management, to associates degrees in accounting and fisheries technology, to PhD’s in arctic engineering and clinical-community psychology. An estimated 36,000 new jobs will be created in Alaska over the coming decade and 66 percent of them will require technical training and education beyond the high school level.

UA works to provide access to higher education for all, keeping tuition low while striving to become the top choice for Alaska’s best and brightest students.

Maintaining excellence and helping ensure the success of a diverse student body becomes more challenging as our state budget is squeezed. While private support can’t make up for lost state revenue, it can make a difference. In FY14, $16 million was distributed to the university from the UA Foundation, including more than $3 million in scholarship funds. The UA Foundation was created in 1974 by Brian Brundin, Richard Gantz and John Hughes, who saw the need and opportunity to build private support for higher education in Alaska.

In 1980, the UA Foundation had just under $1 million in assets and distributed roughly $127,000 in private support to benefit the university. Today assets exceed $300 million including land grant endowment funds, providing millions of dollars which, along with state support, helps more Alaskans attend this excellent university right here in our home state.

In 2014, more than 6,700 donors invested $23.6 million in cash contributions and in-kind gifts to the University of Alaska system. Private support from corporations, foundations, individual donors, alumni, faculty, staff and friends is a relatively small but critical source of revenue for any university. On average, less than five percent of U.S. universities’ revenue comes from private support, but these gifts open doors and provide the margin of excellence that simply is not available from public revenue sources.

At the University of Alaska, donations support scholarships, internships and undergraduate research opportunities; enhance labs, classrooms and other campus facilities and helps the university recognize and support faculty excellence.

This month we celebrate philanthropy in America and around the world. Here in Alaska, we celebrate those who give, volunteer and engage with the charitable sector to make a positive difference. The University of Alaska Foundation is proud to join other community organizations on Nov. 21, in honoring individuals and corporations for their contributions during the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ celebration of philanthropy at the Dena’ina Center.

Among those being recognized are Icicle Seafoods, a company that generously supports programs on campuses across the state such as the UAF-based statewide Marine Advisory Program, as well as scholarships and undergraduate research spanning the system, and the McManamin family who have given generously to provide scholarships for students wishing to become teachers.

Whether you share my passion for higher education or it is another cause that inspires you, I hope you will join me in helping all Alaskans tap into this vast state’s opportunities through your philanthropic support.

• Susan A. Anderson is chairwoman of the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Trustees and President and CEO of the CIRI Foundation.

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