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Lawmakers advance endowment match for public colleges

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. Courtesy photo

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. DAVID BRUNEAU



Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 05, 2019

AMHERST — A program that has received support from the Legislature could provide $20 million in matching funds for public colleges and universities, with $10 million of this funding dedicated to the University of Massachusetts.

Under the endowment match program, the state would provide 50 cents for each dollar of private donations. If included on the supplementary budget, which would then require a signature by Gov. Charlie Baker, the remaining funding would be divided into $5 million for other state universities and $5 million for community colleges.

Both the House and Senate have approved the program for the state’s supplementary budget, although some details must be finalized before the program is cemented.

The program is “a little bit stuck between the House and the Senate,” said Sen. Jo Comerford, vice chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, and the legislature still needs to appoint a conference committee to finalize certain details.

But if approved with the supplementary budget, the program will allow public colleges and universities “to use state funding to leverage private donations,” Comerford said.

“A well-understood donor tool is to be able to get a match in place so that when (colleges and universities) go to ask for support, they’re able to say, ‘Hey, every dollar you give, it will become more than a dollar,’” she added, “and it makes donors feel like their money is going further, that they’re having a great impact on an issue like higher education.”

For public institutions, the proposed program is “about as significant as it gets,” said Patrick Carpenter, director of institutional advancement at Holyoke Community College, which would also be eligible to receive funding from the program.

The state ran a similar program between 1997 and 2007, and “the fact that it’s this close to being an opportunity again after being gone for so many years” is a “truly, truly exciting” possibility, Carpenter said.

“Our job is to make (higher education) as affordable as possible,” he said, “and with the increasing cost at all levels of education, whether it be at four-year or two-year colleges, this kind of incentive program allows us to bring in much-needed resources to make that access to higher education more viable and more affordable to more students.”

The program would allow public colleges and universities to show donors “that they get a little more distance for their money in areas that will have a lasting impact on students and faculty at the university,” said Chris Dunn, executive director of government relations and special adviser to the chancellor at UMass Amherst. The $10 million dedicated to UMass is not limited to the Amherst campus, and would be distributed among all five UMass schools in the state.

When the program last ran, it raised $54 million in state donations and an additional $100 million from private donors, with a current value of $275 million, according to a UMass announcement. This funding “fueled the establishment of more than 70 endowed professorships and chairs and numerous scholarships for students.”

As of June 2018, UMass had an endowment of $874 million. Holyoke Community College has an endowment of around $13.4 million.

Comerford said the program was discontinued in 2007 because “as with any state priority, there are times where the legislature focuses acutely on an issue and there are times where other issues rise to the top.”

Now, Comerford said, “it’s right and good for us to focus on this and to give our public colleges the tools they need to develop robust fundraising programs.”

While the program is not yet guaranteed, Comerford said she is optimistic that it will go into effect.

“I think we have a really good feeling,” she said. “There’s enough money, there’s a lot of goodwill for public universities and colleges.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.