On April 4, the UTCS student body launched the first student-driven giving campaign in the Department of Computer Science. This campaign, called Project Giving Tree, is dedicated to improving the overall quality of UT Computer Science undergraduate education. The campaign will culminate in a fundraiser for graduating UTCS seniors on April 23.
Project Giving Tree is a response to the changing dynamics of University funding. With state funding at all-time lows and tuition at all-time highs, the campaign seeks to raise awareness about the importance of giving back to UTCS starting as soon as students graduate.
State funding for UT Austin has been declining for years, and today, the overall percentage that the state contributes to the University budget has fallen to 13%. Thirty years ago that number was nearly 50%. The slow and inexorable decline of state funds has forced public schools to follow in the path of their private counterparts to ramp up funding from alumni to fill the shortfall. Some universities do this better than others. Nationally, the average university has an alumni giving rate of 8.7% annual participation. Some institutions are fare more effective, with Princeton at the head of the pack with an alumni giving rate of 62.5%. Historically, UTCS alumni have not been asked to contribute significantly to the department's future, and in 2012 the annual giving rate was a mere 0.5%. The students with Project Giving Tree aim to change that momentum.
One of the many challenges the campaign faced is a series of building project on campus, including the newly completed Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex. These new facilities can create the impression that underlying academic budgets are sound. A portion of the campaign is focused on educating students about how construction projects heavily funded by foundation and private gifts use funds that aren't eligible for core academic and teaching purposes.
This year's Project Giving Tree committee is led by student co-chairs William Combs ad Elynn Lee. The two students sat down with Dr. Bruce Porter prior to the launch of the campaign to discuss how the money raised by Project Giving Tree would be spent. They decided that in an effort to directly support the area that impacts undergraduates the most, the money would be used to fund special classes the department couldn't otherwise offer. These will be specialty classes with wide appeal chosen by the chair in consultation with the student body.
In speaking of their motivation for taking on the project, co-chair William Combs said, "In the end, we won't be able to experience the benefits of this project firsthand. What we can do is make sure that the school we're leaving behind us is better for the next generation of UTCS students, and that the legacy of a UTCS degree remains strong."