Record-breaking donations poured in to five Long Island universities and colleges in the last fiscal year, signaling a local rebound of giving to higher education that bucks a dismal national picture for fundraising and endowment growth.
Stony Brook, Hofstra and Adelphi universities, along with Farmingdale State and Molloy colleges each got history-making gifts in fiscal year 2012.
University officials are to announce this week that Stony Brook completed the Simons Match Challenge Grant in a year -- raising $50 million in "matching" donations to equal a $50 million portion of the couple's gift. It was expected to take seven years.
"It's fantastic news," president Samuel L. Stanley said. "To really get to where we want to be, we need philanthropy -- that's the new margin for excellence."
Robust fundraising, the colleges and experts said, is more essential than ever because they no longer can depend on future tuition and fee hikes to meet the costs associated with running and enhancing their institutions. Public colleges face state budget cuts, while private institutions struggle to keep sticker prices from rising out of control.
Focus on fundraising
More than 90 percent of the nation's colleges rely on student tuition payments to cover operating costs. Now, there's more focus on fundraising and amassing endowments to bring in a steady stream of revenue to help pay future expenses.
"The days of raising tuition 6 or 7 percent a year are over," said Kenneth Redd, director of research and policy analysis at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, or NACUBO.
The group, in a partnership with the institutional investment firm Commonfund, ranks and tracks the endowments of 843 colleges and universities, public and private, in the United States and Canada.
Stony Brook and Hofstra universities' endowments showed double-digit percentage increases in the last fiscal year, due partly to the recent gifts.
Hofstra's endowment was $308 million in the 2012 fiscal year, up 12.5 percent from $274 million in 2011. Stony Brook's endowment was $155 million in 2012, up 11.6 percent from $139 million in 2011, according to the 2012 NACUBO-Commonfund Institute Study of Endowments.
They are the only Long Island schools with endowments hefty enough to rank in the top half of the NACUBO list. Harvard University, with an endowment of more than $30 billion, is No. 1, followed by Yale, which had more than $19 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.
Unlike Harvard, established in 1636, and Yale, whose charter dates to 1701, Long Island's schools are relatively young, as are their endowments and fundraising networks. Hofstra was founded in 1935 and Stony Brook opened in 1957.
Nationally, endowments' investments on average lost 0.3 percent in the 2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30, a steep decline from its average return of 19.2 percent in fiscal year 2011. The decline was mostly blamed on the weak performance of international equities and a U.S. stock market that returned a paltry 2 percent.
Longer-term, 10-year returns as of the last fiscal year were better -- 6.2 percent on average nationally -- yet still below the target of 7.4 percent, the researchers said.
Long Island University, also included in the study, was more consistent with other schools in the nation and lost 7.1 percent, from $84 million in 2011 to $78 million in 2012.
Donations to college endowments across the country rose only slightly during this time.
Another higher education philanthropy study by the Council for Aid to Education released last month showed contributions to U.S. colleges and universities totaled $31 billion in fiscal year 2012, less than the historical high of $31.6 billion in 2008. More than half of the institutions included in that study reported fundraising was flat between 2011 and 2012.
The Simons gift, announced in December 2011, was one of the largest to any U.S. public university in history. It included a pledge of $50 million to be given from the couple's foundation to Stony Brook in the form of a dollar-for-dollar match against that of first-time donors.
Rise in philanthropy
Philanthropy to the university soared in the months that followed. Stony Brook saw 16 gifts of $1 million or more, 20 faculty and staff donations totaling more than $700,000 and 1,312 alumni donors who made their first gifts to the school, officials said.
In addition to the Simonses' major investment in the university's new medical research building, theirs and the matching gifts will fully fund 13 new endowed professorships and chairmanships, and an array of scholarships, fellowships and student support funds -- the equivalent of 628 in-state full-tuition scholarships.
"We are not alone, just kind of joining together with other good leadership, to make Stony Brook all that it can be," said Marilyn Hawrys Simons, 62, a bricklayer's daughter from Bay Shore who transferred to the school in the late 1970s and received her bachelor's and doctoral degrees in economics there.
She choked up when she recalled how, 40 years ago as a Stony Brook undergrad, she commuted to the school along with family members who were working on campus construction sites. She said she was inspired by all the recent alumni giving.
"Life really changed for me because of Stony Brook," she said. "It really opened up the world to me in a way that would've never happened."
Jim Simons, former Stony Brook mathematics department chairman and founder of the quantitative investment firm Renaissance Technologies, said he didn't think the school would be able to match the $50 million portion of their gift so quickly.
"It feels great, of course, to do something worthwhile," said Simons, 74. "That they completed it so quickly is a testimony to the hard work the university did and the generosity of our fellow donors."
Dexter Bailey, SBU's vice president for advancement, said the Simons challenge was not the only motivator. "At their core, our donors are even more inspired by the mission of public higher education and the priorities of a world-class research university," he said.
Defying national trend
Other Long Island colleges defied the national trend, too, announcing their largest donations in history during fiscal year 2012.
Former pharmaceutical executive Maurice Deane, 86, of Manhattan, gave Hofstra $20 million.
Financial executive Robert Willumstad, 67, of Manhattan, equaled the largest donation in Adelphi's 116-year history when he committed $9.5 million to the Garden City-based school.
Just off a capital campaign, Adelphi raised $58.5 million from more than 16,000 individual donors, beating its fundraising goal by $2.5 million.
"I sense that people who have the resources are more confident now to give some of it away," Hofstra University president Stuart Rabinowitz said.
The smaller colleges also got relatively sizable donations.
All the donors were alumni of their respective schools -- and as such are receptive to appeals for donations, particularly through capital campaigns to fund professorships, scholarships and sometimes sporting facilities and other campus buildings, college officials said.
"As an alum, you have to give back," said Bill Nuti, of LIU Post's Class of 1986. "I think we feel blessed with what life has provided us."
Nuti, 49, of St. James, is chief executive of a Fortune 500 technology company, NCR Corp., and is among those leading a capital campaign to build a new athletic stadium at the Brookville campus. "It's as much about Long Island as it is about the school," he said.
ALUMNI GIVE BACK
Five Long Island universities and colleges received donations that were their largest ever or equal to their largest ever during the 2012 fiscal year, from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012.
Stony Brook University: $150 million; the largest gift in the university's history and among the top 10 donations ever given to a U.S. public university; from the foundation of Jim Simons, retired hedge fund manager and former SBU mathematics department chairman, and his wife Marilyn, an alumna and president of the Simons Foundation. The donation will be used to build the Medical and Research Translation building on the Health Sciences campus; establish endowed professorships and graduate and undergraduate scholarships; and for scores of strategic initiatives across campus, from the arts to marine sciences, chemistry to medicine, advanced computing to Hellenic studies.
Hofstra University: $20 million; the largest gift in the university's history; from former pharmaceutical executive and alumnus Maurice Deane; to fund student and faculty research, decrease the size of the student body, and put on conferences at the law school, which now bears his name.
Adelphi University: $9.5 million; equal to the largest donation in the university's history; from financial executive and alumnus Robert Willumstad; to fund scholarships and other programming at the business school, which now bears his name.
Farmingdale State College: $1 million; largest donation in the college's history; from nursing home entrepreneur and alumna Theresa Patnode Santmann; to create four scholarships and support faculty research in the health sciences school, which bears her name.
Molloy College: $1 million; largest donation in the college's history; from insurance executive and alumna Eileen McDonnell; to fund the early childhood education program.
Sources: The universities and colleges