Claremont McKenna College on Tuesday announced that it has raised more than $635 million in a fundraising campaign believed to be among the largest for an American liberal arts college.
The public campaign was launched in 2008 with a goal of $600 million to support endowed faculty positions, student scholarships, new facilities and building renovations at the small, private college in Claremont, about 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
The effort was boosted by gifts from several billionaire alumni, including $200 million from philanthropist Robert Day, $75 million from financier Henry Kravis and $50 million from George R. Roberts, a cousin of Kravis. Kravis and Roberts were among the founders of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., a financial firm that was involved in leveraged buyouts of companies.
Claremont McKenna is part of a consortium of seven campuses that make up the Claremont Colleges and includes Pomona College, Scripps, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer College.
Noted for its highly selective admissions, Claremont McKenna tied with Vassar College as the nation's 10th-best liberal arts college in U.S. News & World Report's 2013 rankings. The campus enrolls about 1,250 students; annual tuition and fees top $44,000.
Officials said the fundraising success is especially notable for a relatively young campus, established in 1946 with $85,000 in start-up funds and support from the post-World War II GI Bill.
"It's an inspirational achievement to match the eminence the school has built over the last several decades through a really tremendous faculty and a fiercely driven student body," said President Hiram Chodosh. "It reflects a tremendous loyalty and commitment on the part of alumni and a belief in the school and its future."
The college has an alumni base of about 10,000; officials estimate that nearly 80% contributed.
"Yes, we were nervous about our goal, but we always knew the … community would rally and come through," said Ernie Iseminger, vice president of development and external relations.
Donations to U.S. colleges dropped 12% in 2009, the steepest decline in nearly 40 years, according to a survey by the New York-based Council for Aid to Education. But giving has increased slightly in recent years.
Centre College, a small school in Kentucky, recently received a $250-million all-stock gift from the A. Eugene Brockman Charitable Trust that is believed to be the largest single donation to a liberal arts college.
That eclipsed the $200 million that Claremont McKenna received from Day, former chairman of Trust Company of the West, to establish a graduate finance program and fund scholarships for undergraduates.
USC, meanwhile, has embarked on an ambitious fundraising goal of $5 billion by 2018.
"The downturn in 2008-09 was really unprecedented in its impact on fundraising, and we're still feeling the uncertainty in the economy," said Rae Goldsmith, vice president of advancement resources for the Council of Advancement and Support of Education, a nonprofit that tracks fundraising. "The fact that Claremont McKenna, a young institution starting a campaign when the economy isn't supportive, moved forward with some success is something to brag about."
To raise participation rates, the college encouraged alumni to make four-year pledges to the annual fund, and more than a third participated.
"We felt this was a much easier way to be in communication with alumni," said trustee A. Steve Crown, who helped develop the plan and then made a matching gift for each pledge. "This is a way to stay in communication for three or four years, and we can catch kids as they're leaving school and stay in touch."
Crown and his wife, Nancy, separately made a $7.5-million gift to the campaign. The college renamed a student residence as Crown Hall.
The campaign included a matching gift from Roberts that raised about $63 million to endow 27 professorships across several departments. Roberts also gave the college an unrestricted gift of $50 million that will fund a new fitness and athletic center to be named Roberts Pavilion.
The college also built the Kravis Center, a five-story facility that houses classrooms and administrative offices.
In 2012, a dean at Claremont McKenna was found to have exaggerated its freshman SAT scores and high school rankings to U.S. News & World Report. But the magazine said the inflated results did not affect the campus ranking.