Annual taxpayer funding dwarfs those amounts, but higher education officials tell the Las Vegas Review Journal the funds are not insignificant.
The Voluntary Support of Education Survey shows the University of Nevada Las Vegas raised more than $313 million over the last 10 years. Last year alone, UNLV raised just under $30 million, although state general fund support to the school was $156 million.
The annual Council for Aid to Education survey also shows 10 years of private contributions to the smaller University of Nevada, Reno was more than $261 million, including $23 million in 2011. General fund support to UNR last year was $144 million.
Nationally, the survey found private contributions to universities totaled more than $28 billion in 2010 — an amount down from pre-recession totals.
Fundraising is a top priority for any university president, UNLV President Neal Smatresk said.
“These are challenging times, but we are also in the middle of one of the most philanthropic communities I’ve ever seen,” said Smatresk, who was an administrator at universities in Texas and Hawaii before joining UNLV in 2007.
Philanthropists are the best friend any university can have, the UNLV president said. That’s especially true for schools like UNLV, which opened just 54 years ago. Many donors didn’t graduate from the school, but choose to give because they live in the community.
“Most of the people adopted us out of their passion for higher education,” he said. “I don’t want to sound corny, but there’s something really heartwarming about that.”
As an example, Smatresk points to a $15 million contribution from Ted and Doris Lee, who own the Eureka Casino in Las Vegas and the Eureka Casino Hotel in Mesquite. The donations will establish scholarships and a visiting lecture series, rename the business school and pay for 10 new endowed professorships.
“We live here. We’re part of the community,” said Ted Lee said, who attended both Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley, but not UNLV. “I think with added resources and focus that UNLV could make a big jump forward.”
Both UNLV and UNR have seen dramatic increases in annual fundraising over the past decade, but the amounts pale in comparison to other schools, both nationally and regionally. But that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong in Nevada, said Rae Goldsmith, vice president for advancement resources at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, a national nonprofit umbrella group.
Fundraising totals vary with a university’s location and the age and size of its alumni pool, so “it’s not uncommon for younger institutions to need more time to develop a strong fundraising base, a strong donor base.” Goldsmith said.
Neither of Nevada’s universities has been large long enough to have produced large numbers of alumni. At UNR, 38 percent of the school’s alumni have graduated in the last decade, said John K. Carothers, the vice president for development at UNR and the president of its foundation.
In addition, UNR remains small, with about 18,000 students enrolled this year, he said.
“We’re just not that big a place,” Carothers said. Despite that, the university’s fundraising totals — the amount actually collected — went from $14 million in 2002 to $23 million last year