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Financial Aid Initiative nets $308 million

Against a backdrop of continuing problems for the American economy, Duke's Financial Aid Initiative surpassed its $300 million fund-raising goal, University officials announced Monday.

At the Dec. 31 conclusion of the campaign, $308,483,325 had been raised from 4,364 donors for the creation of an endowment for student aid.

"We were very pleased to hit the goal, especially because in a tough economy, financial aid is more important than ever," said Susan Ross, assistant vice president for the initiative. "This undergirds the financial aid budget at a time when it is absolutely going to get higher every year."

The initiative surpassed fundraising goals set for both athletic scholarships as well as graduate and professional scholarships. It fell $4 million short, however, of the $230 million it set out to raise for undergraduate need-based aid.

Ross attributed the initiative's failure to reach this goal to the economic recession.

"It was the most ambitious goal of all that we set back at the beginning... and we came very, very close," she said. "If the economy was better, we would have hit that one as well."

The University's spending on need-based aid for undergraduates has increased from $42.5 million at the start of the initiative in 2005 to an estimated $63 million this year, according to the initiative's Web site.

Duke expects to increase overall financial aid spending by 17 percent in fiscal year 2009, according to the University's 2007-2008 financial statement, despite losing nearly a fifth of the value of its endowment this year. The University spent $177.8 million in 2008 on aid to graduate and undergraduate students, according to the financial statement.

Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of Financial Aid, said she expects the demand for financial aid funds to increase in the coming year due to the recession, though the Class of 2013 has not yet been admitted.

It is unclear what proportion of the University's financial aid spending will be paid for by the initiative's endowment, because the amount of money available depends on the endowment's returns, explained Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. Endowments typically spend a small percentage of their financial gains each year.

"There is little doubt that over the long haul the new endowments will grow and be instrumental in meeting student need," Peter Vaughn, executive director of Alumni and Development Communications, wrote in an e-mail. "In the short term, particularly in the current conditions, the new endowments' contribution will be limited."

Still, those involved with the initiative said that regardless of the state of the economy, Duke will continue to conduct need-blind admissions and meet every student's demonstrated financial needs.

"If it turns out, in the financial analysis, that Duke is going to have to scale back on certain things, it's not going to be the financial aid program," Rabil said.

The state of the economy has also raised questions as to whether donors will be able to fulfill their pledged contributions to the campaign. Duke has already received $235 million and is scheduled to receive the remaining $73.6 million over the next five years, Ross said. Some donors have asked for more time to pay, but no donors have canceled their pledges, she added.

Trustee Emerita Sally Robinson, co-chair of the Financial Aid Initiative Development Committee and Woman's College '55, attributed the willingness of donors to contribute, despite their financial losses, to their personal connections to the University.

"All the people who would give when their investments are down are, first of all, people who love Duke," she said.

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