Occidental commits to increase endowment by $100 million

Gina Becerril is the director of financial aid at Occidental College. Photo taken in Los Angeles on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. Johnny Franks/The Occidental

The Office of Institutional Advancement unveiled a comprehensive fundraising initiative, primarily intended to improve the college’s financial aid resources, in a presentation to the Associated Students of Occidental College Senate Oct. 15. The college aims to raise $100 million to invest in the endowment for the financial aid budget, but according to Director of Communications Jim Tranquada, the college is still developing their strategy for the exact monetary goal. This total amount will include a sizable portion of funding for the college’s academic and capital advancement, in addition to the $100 million dedicated to scholarships. Official plans are expected to be finalized May 2019.

According to Vice President of Institutional Advancement Charlie Cardillo, a comprehensive fundraising plan like this has not been undertaken by Occidental in over 20 years.

“For us to re-engage with this coordinated, concerted and comprehensive approach is — I don’t want to be melodramatic — a bit of a historic moment for us,” Cardillo said.

According to Cardillo, this fundraising campaign is comprehensive because it simultaneously focuses on multiple priorities while planning for the future. These priorities are broken down into academic, capital and financial categories. Adding funding for academic programs at Occidental would include investing in new faculty members, curriculum and research. Capital funding would improve the physical campus through one-time investments. Financial funding refers specifically to financial scholarships for students, including financial aid, internship funding and research funding. According to Cardillo, while the initiative has a wide scope, there is a particular emphasis in this campaign on building financial aid endowment.

According to Cardillo, the $100 million raised for this purpose would not be a one-time amount of scholarships for students but would be invested into the endowment to generate returns. These returns would be generated annually for as long as $100 million remains invested.

“To build an endowment takes time. It takes real commitment because, in many instances, you won’t see impact in a short amount of time,” Cardillo said.

The endowment has a 5 percent distribution, meaning that for every $1 to be generated by the endowment, $20 must be invested by the college. The $100 million goal would produce $5 million for the financial aid budget annually.

“Building endowment in the form of scholarship is maybe one of the most important things we can do for the long-term viability of our mission as a college, particularly this college, which has led the nation … in pursuing excellence through diversity,” Cardillo said. “What has to come with that is a long-term commitment to building up the kind of endowed support that can allow you to perpetuate that kind of commitment.”

One of the drawbacks of endowment funds, according to Tranquada, is that those funds are restricted and can only be spent for the explicit purpose for which they are given. For this reason, unrestricted donations to Oxy Fund are important as they can be used for whatever priorities the college sets, such as electrical bills or other less glamorous daily needs of the college.

Jim Tranquada is the director of communications at Occidental College. Photo taken in Los Angeles on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. Johnny Franks/The Occidental

This campaign has been developing for the last three years, starting July 1, 2016, as a part of what Cardillo calls “the quiet stage.” This initial stage includes internal discussions with various audiences in order to craft a single vision for the project, as well as working to gain financial commitment from donors. A public stage, including solidified goals and several on-campus and regional events, is planned to start May 2019.

As a part of these efforts, Institutional Advancement is currently creating student groups to work with them on the vision for the upcoming public phase, according to Cardillo.

“One of the most effective ways to impress donors is to put Oxy students in front of them. Oxy students are impressive,” Tranquada said. “When we have donors on campus, we invite students to meet with them so they can be dually impressed.”

Gina Becerril, director of financial aid, has taken on the job of communicating to staff and stakeholders how scholarship monies individually affect and assist students and their families.

“[At one meeting, board members] were just taken aback by the cost of education, the work that this office does with students and families and how much every family is a world, every student is a world. All the factors need to be considered when looking at one individual family,” Becerril said.

According to Becerril, this campaign will allow the college to continue meeting 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need. This is a service that, Becerril said, is both something which makes her proud to work at Occidental and is simply the right thing to do.

However, Occidental does not currently meet 100 percent of demonstrated need without giving loans. According to Becerril, who was the first generation of her family to attend college, loans are particularly frightening for first-generation students.

“We have to offer loans,” Becerril said. “There are other schools out there that have a huge endowment and can say, ‘We don’t offer loans, we meet 100 percent of your demonstrated financial need without loans’ — I’d love to do that, it would be a dream for me. Of course, the more monies we raise, the closer we are to possibly at one point doing that.”