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Aid takes center stage in annual education report

Student groups aren’t the only ones writing Stanford Fund letters to generous alumni — Vice Provost John Bravman and the Office of Development do it every year in the form of the Annual Report on Undergraduate Education.

The report — separate from the University’s Annual Report, which is created out of the University communications department — tells donors where their money went when they cut a check to the University and provides an opportunity to highlight areas where Stanford would like to invest more money into the undergraduate experience.

Despite a year of financial belt-tightening, everything about the 2008-2009 Annual Report on Undergraduate Education centers around the new, from the hire of an Earth Systems field program coordinator, to a profile of Stanford’s Arts Intensive summer program, to the just-renovated student residences at Crothers. Even the format of the Annual Report itself — now a “green” 30-page interactive online viewbook — is a departure from past years of a paper-based publication.

The yearly report — a joint effort by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) and the Office of Development — provides donors with a snapshot of key undergraduate programs — crucially, through the lens of donations to The Stanford Fund. It reads like a brochure for prospective students — underscoring a myriad of must-have undergraduate offerings — but with one caveat: If you like these programs, you (the donors) must pay for them.

Rebecca Smith Vogel, senior director of marketing and communications at the Office of Development, said the Undergraduate Education report is not so much a fundraising strategy as it is a donor update, but the University does highlight some major initiatives and priorities in the report’s pages.

“In determining which programs to feature in the annual report, we look at allocations that received the most money, and we also try to vary the programs we feature so that donors who are receiving the annual report year after year are getting an opportunity to read about different aspects of the undergraduate experience,” wrote Vogel in an e-mail to The Daily.

Whereas one year we might focus on the arts, another year we might have more stories that feature work in the sciences or engineering,” Vogel said. “We do try to have something that would interest everyone, so we are aiming to showcase a variety of programs and students in any given report.”

In mid-December 2009, the Office of Development sent an e-mail to 82,000 undergrad alumni, parents of current students and past donors to inform them about the 2008-2009 Annual Report on Undergraduate Education.

The 2008-2009 report highlighted three main areas where the University wanted to direct its alumni donations: need-based financial aid, the academic experience and student life. Eighty-two percent of The Stanford Fund dollars were allocated to undergraduate financial aid, 11 percent went to academic experience and seven percent went to student life.

Financial Aid

Financial aid, one of President John Hennessy’s highest priorities, moved to the forefront of the outreach message.

“We have stood by our Financial Aid commitment by using other institutional sources of funding such as The Stanford Fund (annual gift funds) more heavily than we would have if the endowment funds were available,” Karen Cooper, director of financial aid, told The Daily in November.

After a 27 percent decline in the University’s endowment, 82 percent of the Stanford Fund was earmarked for Financial Aid in 2008-2009 to fill the widening gap. In typical years, about half of The Stanford Fund goes toward financial aid. For 2009-2010, the University projects that 75 percent of The Stanford Fund — 15 million — will go toward Financial Aid. Currently, 49 percent of undergraduates receive need-based financial aid.

The 2008-2009 Annual Report on Undergraduate Education aimed to personalize the financial aid message by profiling videos of first-time college students like Justin Heermann ’12, who rely heavily on The Stanford Fund.

“I remember driving down Palm Drive with my dad and seeing the campus open up in front of me, and it got even better when I realized that through Financial Aid, I could actually come here,” Heermann said in a video embedded within the report.

In the past, the University seemed hesitant to put too much weight on the importance of financial aid. The 2007-2008 Undergraduate Education report stressed that money allocated to increasing access to the University was “more than just financial aid” — and Stanford seemed to follow an approach of actually showing what financial aid does for a student rather than spending time telling donors it was important for its own sake.

Student Life

This year’s report also showcased recently completed building plans. The report emphasized that alumni dollars ensured that Stanford students were no longer “stuffed like sardines in a can” due to implementation of The Housing Master Plan, which aimed to create more living space for students. In 2009, Crothers Hall and Crothers Memorial Hall were converted into undergraduate housing units.

In past years, the University took the approach of profiling a specific student group in the Undergraduate Education report. This year, however, the approach appeared to be a renaissance strategy, showing that the University has it all. The report features an embedded video montage of students saying thank-you from Stanford’s 100-plus registered student groups, from “a cappella to wushu.”

Academic Experience

In the academic realm, the new field program coordinator within the Earth Sciences School, Introductory Seminars (Intro-sems) and the Arts Intensive program topped the list for expansions to the undergraduate academic experience.

The Stanford Fund provides money straight into the coffers of the University’s three undergraduate degree-granting schools: the School of Humanities and Sciences, the School of Engineering and the School of Earth Sciences. The schools then individually determine which department projects to fund with the TSF money.

The School of Earth Sciences used its 2008-2009 Stanford Fund donations to hire a field program coordinator, Max Borella, to lead outings to Death Valley and Owens Valley and to work with faculty to tailor the undergraduate experience for earth sciences students.

Intro-sems were also big on the University’s fundraising priority-list. As in past years, they continue to shore up support for the small student programs that were launched under Stanford President Gerhard Casper.

The report also highlighted the Arts Intensive Program, a three-week immersive experience similar to Sophomore College where juniors and seniors study the arts in the weeks before fall quarter. VPUE launched the Arts Intensive in 2009 with grants from The Stanford Fund and the Hume Endowment for the Arts.

“Considering the economic times, I am very fortunate to be a part of a community that believes in its youth and in supporting each other,” said Nikesh Patel ’10, a recipient of The Stanford Fund scholarship. “Thank you.”

VPUE and the Office of Development are hoping donors feel the same way — and write a check to Stanford to show their gratitude.

In fiscal year 2009, $18.4 million was raised in The Stanford Fund, down from the $19.8 million raised in 2008. The Stanford Fund hit a fundraising peak in 2006 and 2007 at $19.9 million.

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