Temple University will kick off a $100 million fund-raising campaign in the fall specifically targeted at financial aid, as it continues a concerted effort to roll back the cost of education.
Famous Temple alum Bill Cosby has filmed several videos the university will use to urge its 275,000 alumni and others to donate and help a new generation of students attend school at an affordable cost.
It's the largest campaign specifically for financial aid ever undertaken by the 39,000-student university, whose main campus is in the heart of North Philadelphia and whose mission includes serving students from the region.
The university also announced in June it would not raise tuition for 2012-13, a first since 1995, though it did hike room-and-board costs 3.9 percent. The tuition decision followed an announcement by the state that it would hold flat Temple's subsidy rather than institute a 30 percent cut as originally proposed.
Temple ultimately was the only one of the four state-related universities - the others are University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania State University, and Lincoln University - to freeze tuition. The others held their increases to 3 percent or less. The 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education also raised their tuition 3 percent.
Temple wants to become a rigorous participant in the growing national conversation to address the ever-increasing cost of higher education and the resulting, back-breaking debt incurred by students, said Patrick O'Connor, chairman of Temple's board of trustees. The pressure on students nationally to pay has become greater as states' support for education has waned.
"We weren't trying to show anyone up," said O'Connor, vice chair of the law firm Cozen O'Connor. "Our focus is on our kids, what's affordable, what our mission is."
For in-state students at Temple, tuition will remain $13,006 this year, which is lower than both Pitt at $15,730 and the Penn State main campus at $15,562.
"There wasn't one person who said, 'Don't you think we should do 3 percent,' " O'Connor said, recalling the 36-member board of trustees' reaction to a tuition freeze. "They were all, 'Let's get it done.' Every one."
O'Connor acknowledged Temple will have to tighten its belt more as a result. The university has reduced its operating budget by $37 million in the last year, $113 million over the last four years.
"It creates a hole, but we believe we can fill that hole and more with philanthropy," O'Connor said.
If the university had raised tuition 3 percent, which is about the cost of living, it would have brought in about $14 million more.
This year's effort is just the beginning, O'Connor said.
"At some point, I'd like to see us decrease tuition," he said.
Temple last week hired Neil D. Theobald, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Indiana University as its new president in part because of his financial acumen. When he takes over Jan. 1, philanthropy will be his No. 1 mission, he said last week in meetings with staff and students.
Theobald also said he hoped to capitalize on Temple's high-profile move into the Big East Conference.
"The move to the Big East is huge," Theobald said last week. "That puts us into a number of markets that we're very interested in for fund-raising purposes, for recruiting of students, for working with businesses. We've got to take advantage of that."
Temple's tuition freeze is not unprecedented; a few colleges, including Cabrini, a small private Catholic college on the Main Line, decided to decrease tuition. Cabrini will charge $29,000 this year, a 12.5 percent cut.
More universities could begin to take that step as pressure to lower costs continues, experts said.
"It's a widespread conversation and it's growing in intensity," said Paul Lingenfelter, president of the Association of State Higher Education Executive Officers. "I'm pleased Temple has recognized the importance of the problem and has taken action."
If colleges continue to rely on tuition increases, he said, "we are headed toward a train wreck in terms of successful access to higher education and completion."
Temple decided to freeze tuition in 1995 over concern that the school was becoming too expensive for the public. At that time, it cost $5,314 for Pennsylvania residents. Before that, the last time the university had held tuition steady was 21 years earlier.
Pennsylvania has one of the highest student debt rates in the nation for college, said Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, which studies student debt.
Two thirds of students who graduated from public and private nonprofit colleges nationally had debt in 2010, compared to 70 percent in Pennsylvania, she said. The average debt load nationally was a little over $25,000, compared to $28,599 in Pennsylvania.
At Temple that year, 76 percent of graduates had average debt of $31,123, she said.
Temple this year will increase student debt-counseling services, including guiding them on what kind of loans to take and from where, said Richard M. Englert, the university's acting president.
"We find that sometimes students feel they need to borrow more than they really do," Englert said.
The university will give out about $90 million in financial aid this year, up about $8 million from the previous year, Englert noted.
With its new campaign, Temple hopes to raise $100 million over five years, with 50 percent of it going into an endowment for financial aid and the rest toward financial aid awards.
"Over the next several years, we want to have an aggressive strategy for increasing private giving for student financial aid," Englert said.
Cosby spent two days on campus this summer, giving Englert and other Temple officials ideas on how they might successfully appeal to donors.
"He also has indicated that he would like to write a letter to our alumni to really make the case and ask for support," Englert said.
About 9 percent of Temple alumni donate annually. University officials have set a goal of 15 percent in the next five years.
After the recession hit a few years ago, more colleges began launching campaigns specifically for financial aid and scholarships, as Temple is doing, said Rae Goldsmith, vice president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
"Financial aid as a source of giving is very attractive to donors," she said, "because donors can relate to the need, and you can see a pretty quick impact to the power of your gift."
University officials expect Cosby's involvement to help even more.
He will raise the profile of the campaign and get the message about Temple's mission out widely, said U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee, a Temple trustee.
"Once they understand what Temple is, what kind of institution it is," McKee said, "I think a lot of people will be motivated to become a part of that."