Arkansas State University alums have been pouring money into their alma mater during the past year, and just before the fall semester begins those numbers have become an all-time record.
About $40.1 million has been donated to the school, more than doubling the previous donation record of $18.4 million raised during the 2014-15 school year, according to ASU.
“We stand here today able to assist more students with scholarships thanks to the growing generosity of our community and our alumni,” Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said. “We have more named professorships to provide assistance to research and scholarly work by our faculty. And we broke new ground with our first named college this spring.”
ASU graduate Neil Griffin gave the school its first eight-digit gift in history when he pledged $10 million towards the Neil Griffin College of Business. The university also received major gifts from alumnus Johnny Allison ($5,000,001), Conway-based Centennial Bank ($5 million) and Paragould-chartered First National Bank ($5 million).
While four significant gifts generated headlines, the record-breaking year of philanthropy at Arkansas State was across the board as the giving rate of all alumni rose to 9.2%.
“The entire pack stepped up for Arkansas State,” Damphousse said. “We are extremely fortunate to have alumni that are devoted to their alma mater, and willing to show that support through charitable gifts. This is yet another area where ‘Every Red Wolf Counts’, and for Arkansas State, every gift or pledge of support lifts our institution.”
In the past five years, record or near-record giving to Arkansas State has become common with all five ranking among the top six all-time. ASU received 40 of the top 100 gifts and gift commitments in university history in the past five years.
ASU has 10 new endowed faculty positions, more than doubling the total to 16 on campus. The number of endowed scholarships is up more than 40%, according to the school.
“It all indicates a growing faith in Arkansas State’s value to the lives of our alumni and friends and the strength of our role in the state,” Damphousse said to the faculty assembly. “This is the product of the hard work of past administrators and the current faculty, staff and administration. I am proud to have the opportunity to be the chancellor at a university that has that type of commitment both from our friends and our team.”
The scholarship growth is one of the most impactful for students, as the number of privately-funded scholarships has grown from 251 to 361 since July 1, 2012.
“The university is grateful for each gift, but I am especially proud of the progress we’ve made to increase the number of scholarship endowments,” said Jason Penry, vice chancellor for university advancement. “These scholarships truly having a lasting impact. A great example is the Mable Symons Woodside Memorial Scholarship. Established in 1989 by alumnus John Woodside, it has been given to 230 students. The gift of education is an investment that truly changes the lives of our students forever. It’s one of the best investments that can be made.”
ASU has another record in its sights. With less than a week before the opening day of classes for the fall semester, the university is on pace to have a 77.1% first-year retention rate, Damphousse said. If the current trend is maintained through the 11th day of the fall semester, it will break the fall 2014 record of 76%, he added.
Whether an all-time record is achieved, it is a dramatic change from when ASU’s 2016 first-year students were retained at only 72.8% in the fall 2017 semester. Damphousse credited the Chancellor’s Commission on Completion (CCC) that was formed last fall to address the issue.
Enhancing advising, working to remove obstacles for registration, creating new pathways for students to re-enroll, and creating new opportunity funds to assist with small financial needs are among the strategies identified and pursued by the CCC.
“Dr. Jill Simons and her group of faculty, staff and administrators have had an impact on our students, and I feel confident that they can lead us to our ultimate goal of 85% retention of our first-year students by 2020,” Damphousse said.