Bicentennial Fundraising Goal surpassed, college celebrates financial triumph while students are left uncertain

On Thursday, Aug. 13, the “Our Allegheny” bicentennial fundraising campaign surpassed its goal of $200 million. This concluded “the largest fundraising campaign in its 205-year history,” as reported on the campaign’s website.

The campaign began when the college celebrated its bicentennial in  2015 with intentions to boost the college’s endowment entering into its third century.

“More than $50 million was raised for new scholarships, $37.5 million for faculty support and professional development, $30.2 million for facility maintenance and renovation and $7.5 million to support internships and off-campus study,” according to an article published in TribLive.

As the campaign was coming to a close, COVID-19 threatened to “derail” everything, according to the article in TribLive. Fundraising efforts previously employed through in-person events were limited to Zoom calls. Despite modifications, donations to the college continued to come. The college reported on April 23 that this year’s Gator Give Day raised over $600,000.

“Time and time again, our alumni, parents and friends have demonstrated their unyielding support for Allegheny, even in the most trying of times, as evidenced by record-setting giving to this historic $200 million campaign,” Link said in a statement to TribLive. 

The alternative fundraising efforts also benefited from the immediate establishment of an emergency fund, assisting in providing reimbursements for students, personal protective equipment and other costs to students and the college.

Link expanded on this, stating reimbursements included costs which would have been covered by scholarships, meaning this was not money already paid by students. She also explained that the emergency fund existed in part prior to the pandemic through microgrants accessible to students as Gator Success Grants. 

Although the college has been able to celebrate a financial triumph despite COVID-19, many students continue to struggle while entering into an uncertain fall semester.

“Those numbers sound … so astonishing to me,” Ashlie Gariepy, ’20, said. 

Gariepy was almost unable to return in the fall due to a decrease in her financial aid. According to Gariepy, she contacted Financial Aid numerous times, but was never able to receive “explicit” reasoning for the reduction in her financial aid. 

“So many students struggle year after year,” Mariah Nablo, ’22, said. “I was always met with a sort of, ‘No, we can’t help you.’”

Nablo also faced financial challenges trying to return for the fall semester. Due to costs from health complications, Nablo took a leave of absence in the spring 2020 semester. Her aid was reduced for the fall semester, but she was able to appeal and receive additional aid. The remaining amount required crowdfunding efforts to cover.

“Surpassing the fundraising goal is great, but I wonder if (the money) is really going to go towards the things that they’re saying it’s going toward.” Nablo said.

According to Link, the fundraiser has already supported tangible benefits to students although they may not realize it. The funds have expanded scholarship funding as well as professorships and contributed to the ongoing renovations to Bentley Hall.

“Compared to other institutions similar in size, we are very generous in terms of financial aid,” Link said. 

According to the Financial Aid website, more than 90% of students received some form of assistance this year. Since 2015, the “Our Allegheny” campaign has contributed to this effort to lessen students’ financial burdens of attendance.

While the fundraising efforts have already begun improving the college and the experience of students attending, many students feel the pandemic has made it difficult to feel this triumph extends to them.

College students across the nation felt the effects of the pandemic, but a majority did not qualify for stimulus checks. Students relied upon CARES Act funding, essential worker positions and tuition reimbursements to survive. 

“Every time I talk to (Financial Aid), they just make it seem so hard to solve (financial problems),” Gariepy said.

Some Allegheny students feel the college could have done more to assist them with financial aid. 

“I am proud of the way we have navigated this pandemic,” Link said.

Between the emergency funds and the distribution of CARES Act funding, the college has distributed relief through various means to a majority of students enrolled in the spring semester, the college reported. 

While many students acknowledge they received some pandemic relief, tuition rose $1,220, which is an increase of 3% from the previous year, according to an article in the Campus from April 4. Tuition remains the same for students choosing to participate remotely, but they are not responsible for housing or dining expenses.

Among students, who returned to campus, some felt that returning was a necessity; reasons range from completing senior projects, seeking reliable access to the internet and other necessary resources or otherwise pursuing a learning experience most conducive to completing their respective degrees. 

In celebrating a historic achievement with the “Our Allegheny” campaign, some students are calling on the college to continue to evaluate ways to provide support during the pandemic. CARES Act funds continue to be accessible through Gator Success Grants for students affected by challenges related to COVID-19.