Ruth Frost Parker has a habit of getting letters from children who aren't hers.
The 81-year-old Sandusky woman has three children of her own, but these letters from strangers warm her heart like nothing else.
They are from the recipients of scholarships she has established for students attending Bowling Green State University and its regional campus in Huron, Ohio, called Firelands College. Last year alone, she gave $300,000 through her foundation to provide aid for needy students.
"I particularly believe in the Firelands College because it serves our children around here who can't afford to go anywhere else," she said.
Her support and that from like-minded people helped give BGSU a great year for fund-raising. The university saw cash gifts increase more than 15 percent during the fiscal year that ended June 30, with cash donations rising from $8.5 million to $9.8 million. Add in nearly $2 million in gifts-in-kind, and you have a school record.
BGSU wasn't alone in having a good year. The University of Toledo took in $6.9 million in cash gifts, a jump of more than 10 percent. Lourdes College, a private institution in Sylvania, boosted its giving by 8.3 percent to $1.95 million.
And even though Owens Community College had a lower starting point, preliminary figures show its private giving went up 159 percent from $241,990 to $627,139 because of some aggressive fund-raising, officials there said.
That is all great news for national observers who witnessed giving to higher education remain flat in 2003.
National data wasn't available for the 2004 fiscal year that just ended, but John Lippincott, interim president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in Washington, said he expects
"There's no question that giving to higher education is linked to the state of the economy in general and the state of the stock market in particular. I think if you look at that, there is reason to be optimistic," he said.
"I think most institutions would be delighted to be able to report [private giving increases] in the range of 8 to 15 percent," he added.
Both BGSU and UT are concentrating heavily on fund-raising as part of capital campaigns, which remain in their early stages. Neither has finalized goals for how much it wants to raise, but officials from both institutions said things are going well.
"We're very enthused and energized about initial responsiveness from alums," said Doug Smith, BGSU's vice president of advancement.
BGSU's campaign has landed several very large pledges, including a combined $3 million from California businessman Bill Dallas and Scott Hamilton, the ice skater who grew up in Bowling Green, and a school-record $6.7 million pledge from Bob and Ellen Thompson, BGSU alumni from Michigan.
Official fund-raising numbers include cash in hand rather than pledges.
BGSU has seen dramatic increases in support to scholarships, which is no accident given a 9 percent increase in tuition and fees this fall.
"One of the reasons we're making a push for scholarships is to counteract the plain, brutal fact that our tuition is going up," Mr. Smith said.
And at a time when state support continues to dwindle, increased private donations couldn't be more important in getting initiatives, such as the President's Leadership Academy and a center for entrepreneurial leadership, off the ground.
"It would have been very difficult in the current environment in the state to fund those programs without private dollars," Mr. Smith said.
Vern Snyder, vice president of institutional advancement at UT, said private gifts help ease the pain of state funds lost in recent years.
"You have to have some flex money somewhere to make up for what state money isn't," he said.
He said the university added four development officers this year to help regain ground lost in past years when there was significant administrative turnover at the university.
"It shows the progress we're making," he said.
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