What the Stanford Challenge Meant, and Where the Money Went

The promise and progress enabled by a historic fundraising success.

March/April 2012

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What the Stanford Challenge Meant, and Where the Money Went

On December 31, 2011, we marked a momentous event in the life of the University: Stanford concluded the most successful campaign in U.S. higher-education history—raising $6.2 billion to transform the University to address the most complex issues of our time and educate our students to be global leaders.

The culmination of more than 10 years of effort, The Stanford Challenge was, by any standard, our most ambitious campaign. After almost six years of planning and discussion involving hundreds of faculty, University trustees, campaign volunteers and alumni, we publicly launched The Stanford Challenge in 2006. Our goal—to enable Stanford to assume a greater leadership role in this century and to provide $4.3 billion in resources to support this transformation—was audacious. That seemed especially true after the 2008 global economic crisis, which took a heavy toll on our endowment just as students' need for financial aid increased.

But the Stanford community is extraordinary and believed in the importance of this work. Everyone—alumni, parents, friends, faculty, staff and students—pulled together to meet the challenge. Hundreds of faculty and students participated in Leading Matters events worldwide to discuss the enormous potential of their research and teaching. More than 10,000 volunteers contacted fellow alumni and friends to win support for undergraduate financial aid, interdisciplinary graduate fellowships, professorships and new facilities. And more than 166,000 donors responded.

By the end of 2011, The Stanford Challenge had eclipsed its original goal, providing essential support for our multidisciplinary initiatives in human health, environmental sustainability, international peace and security, the arts and K-12 education, as well as all seven of Stanford's schools. It changed the way we pursue research and teaching and offered opportunities for collaboration across schools and departments. More than 130 new faculty positions and more than 360 new graduate fellowships have been funded, and $27 million awarded in seed grants for innovative research.

An important aspect of The Stanford Challenge was maintaining our need-blind admissions policy for undergraduates. This required a more generous financial aid program. More students also needed more aid after the economic downturn, and the university's budget for undergraduate scholarships doubled in five years. As a result, we tripled the undergraduate financial aid goal during the campaign. Our alumni, parents and friends responded with more than $250 million for need-based scholarships. Sustaining our financial aid program represents the commitment of one generation to the next, and through your support, a Stanford education remains accessible to the most talented students. Today, one in six Stanford students—about 15 percent of our undergraduates—are the first in their families to attend college.

It is hard to do pathbreaking research and teach in outmoded facilities, so The Stanford Challenge also addressed that need. By campaign's end, we had constructed 26 new buildings, including a stem-cell research facility that is among the largest of its kind and a state-of-the-art science and engineering quad. Other buildings are under way, including a new arts district: The Bing Concert Hall is scheduled for completion next year and planning has started on the McMurtry Building and a home for the Anderson Collection at Stanford University.

These are just a few ways The Stanford Challenge transformed the University. Others are featured in the final report at

Although the campaign has concluded, its legacy will be felt for generations—at Stanford and throughout the world. We will continue to look for ways to have an impact through our research and teaching. Thank you for your extraordinary support and for being a community that nurtures innovation.

John Hennessy was the president of Stanford University.

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