Construction, alumni giving primary focuses for university

Samantha Butcher

University officials gathered officers from student organizations together Tuesday night for the What Every Student Leader Needs to Know About Grand Valley reception. A panel of speakers addressed student questions about state appropriations, fundraising and the university’s financial future.

The panel included Jim Bachmeier, vice president for finance and administration; Maribeth Wardrop, vice president for university development; and Matt McLogan, vice president for university relations.

As state appropriations have been cut back, the university had made up for the difference with private donations. In the past 15 years, Wardrop’s office has raised $200 million through private donations.

“All of the money that Maribeth has raised has either gone into facilities or student scholarship programs or financial aid,” McLogan said. “We do not use private money to pay the light bill, or pay anybody’s salaries.”

GVSU receives $58.3 million in state appropriations, or about $2,365 per student, the lowest of Michigan’s 15 public universities. State appropriations make up 17.2 percent of the univerity’s $309.7 million budget.

The state budget has been cut $4 billion since 2000, with the single largest cut going to higher education appropriations.

“State funding at Grand Valley is low,” Bachmeier said. “It’s very low, perhaps the lowest it’s been since it’s inception. We’re in the bottom five percent in the country, and I’d even venture to say we’re in the bottom two percent.”

The university hopes to transition the donor base from community members to GVSU alumni, Wardrop said. Currently, 6.3 percent of alumni give back to the university, a “pretty embarassing” statistic Wardrop attributes both to the youth of the university — the majority of GVSU alumni graduated in the 1990s — and the youth of the University Development office, which was created 15 years ago.

“This university came out of the community,” Bachmeier said. “… The public said we need a university in West Michigan and that same group of people — literally, that same group — we’re losing them, sadly. Bill Seidman and his colleagues, they’re still some of our major donors. Well, they’re not going to be with us much longer and some of them already aren’t, and I think they fully expected to pass that torch to another generation, and another generation really has stepped up but at some point they’re going to pass that torch from the community to the alums.”

Construction is also a priority for GVSU. In 2010, GVSU had 123 square feet per student without including living centers, half of the state average. Wardrop said the limited space on campus prevents the university from hiring more professors or offering more sections of popular classes.

“If we built a building right next to the buildings we have, a building the same size of every building we have except for our living centers, we’d still be short of space,” Wardrop said. “That’s a visual that’s quite impressive.”

In past decades, the state bore the majority of construction costs for new university buildings, but today that burden rests with the universities. The university’s most recent construction projects, including ongoing construction of the Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons, were funded through private donations.

“We’re going to be building for a long time,” Bachmeier said. “It’s very difficult when you’re building to tell people you need more, and they look around and they say, ‘Well, I believe that you need it, but it looks like you’re getting it.”

Panelists encouraged students to be vocal supporters of higher education to their representatives, and to encourage their parents and family members to do the same.

“Higher education was seen as a public good, and now lawmakers see it as a private burden to you,” McLogan said. “Because in your lifetime, you’re going to make $1 million more in your career on average than someone who goes to college, and today’s policy makers say, ‘You’re getting that benefit of a higher salary, you ought to pay for it.’ I happen to disagree, and strongly.”

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