Changes ahead in how BYU gets, distributes money

Starting next year, colleges and departments will no longer approach potential donors, and donors wanting to contribute to the university will be steered directly to student programs instead of building projects and infrastructure. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

BYU has made frequent use of donors in paying for new buildings and other significant campus projects, including the $80 million used to build the new Engineering Building slated for dedication in early December.

But that changes at the end of this year. Existing endowments will remain, but colleges and departments will no longer approach potential donors, and donors wanting to contribute to the university likely will be steered directly to student programs instead of building projects and infrastructure. Funding conduits will be more direct between the university and its sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Clearer in this policy shift is how the university will more fully implement President Kevin J Worthen’s new Inspiring Learning Initiative, which emphasizes hands-on learning experiences beyond the classroom. Mentoring Environment Grants and Office of Research and Creative Activities grants, known on campus as MEG and ORCA, are being retired with fund allocations being administered to students by individual colleges on campus, according to BYU associate academic vice president Alan Harker.

The changes raise questions that haven’t yet been publicly addressed, like how in-progress building renovation or replacement plans will be structured and how a development plan for the recently-acquired Provo High School property will be affected.

Trace Eddington, senior manager of marketing and communications at LDS Philanthropies, said fundraising has played a role in 17 existing buildings on campus, including the Joseph F. Smith Building, the BYU Broadcasting Building, the Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center, and most recently the new Engineering Building.

“We are deeply appreciative of donors who have aided in funding these beautiful and much-needed facilities,” he said. “However, we don’t currently have any construction projects that are approved for fundraising.”

University spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said BYU may engage in fundraising for student financial aid, capital projects when directed by the Board of Trustees and non-tithing based activities, such as athletics.

Jenkins said student financial aid includes such things as scholarships, grants, fellowships, awards, loans, financial support, including student wages, where appropriate. Student financial aid also includes activities such as inspiring learning, experiential learning, mentored-learning experiences, teaching assistantships, student research, research assistantships, internships, study abroad, work-study, travel and participation in performing groups and competitions.

Also in flux is the annual Employee Giving campaign, where campus faculty and staff are encouraged to donate to the university and have been likely to donate to elements within their own programs.

“The Annual BYU Employee Giving Campaign will continue and will be aligned with the guidelines provided above,” Jenkins said.

New grant programs

Students might most immediately feel these changes through the new grant programs. Harker said the shift toward individual colleges creating their own grant programs came in response to years of feedback from students, colleges and departments saying “the kind of one size fits all wasn’t working very well across the colleges.”

For example, Harker said ORCA made sense for a student in the humanities, but in a laboratory discipline, “it didn’t make sense at all.” Conversely, the MEG program made sense for laboratory disciplines but didn’t work well in humanities. The flexibility of colleges’ individual grant programs, then, will “end up giving students more opportunities than we were currently giving them.”

He also said the university holds a resources planning meeting each year where colleges submit a request to the President’s Council for grant money they feel they need. In this way, colleges will essentially apply for their portion of the grant money each year. Colleges will then report how they used the money, and Harker said he assumes decisions will be made each year based on how effectively those funds were used.

In addition, Harker said donors still play an important role, but the distribution channels have shifted a step closer to students by having individual colleges approve grant proposals from within their programs.

More student opportunities

One example of new, individual grant programs is in the College of Humanities. BYU art history professor Elliott Wise said the College of Humanities has created BYU Humanities Undergraduate Mentoring (HUM) grants, which he has heard will keep essentially the same protocol and application processes of ORCA. The HUM grants are eligible for up to $1,200 rather than $1,500 in the ORCA program. Wise attributes this to the college trying to give more opportunities to more students. The HUM grants do not include a $300 faculty award given to mentors under the ORCA system.

Elliott Wise stands in Naples, Italy, during a 2006 research trip that was partially funded by ORCA. Changes to how the university receives and distributes funding means the ORCA and MEG programs are being replaced with individual grant programs within each college. (Courtesy of Elliott Wise)

He said that in the ORCA system, there were concerns that certain types of projects were receiving funding more frequently than other types of projects, such as someone with a science and technology background approving more projects that fell within their expertise. Therefore, an advantage of project proposals staying within their own colleges is they will be considered by “a very sympathetic audience” of people who understand the merits of the proposed project.

However, Wise also expressed concern that since project proposals are now college-specific, there may not be as much crossover between disciplines, such as a history student in the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences seeking mentoring for an art history project, which would fall within the College of Humanities.

Overall, though, he thinks the new grant system is “a smart move,” and hopes grant projects are one of the best experiences students have at BYU.

Wise, who received ORCA grants twice during his undergraduate years at BYU, said grant programs provide students with a “wonderful kind of independence” to bring their field of study outside the classroom.

“It says so much about our university,” Wise said. “And the donors that they’re willing to invest in undergraduates, which is a group that does not get the same kind of investment that graduate students get. I just think (grant programs are) one of the best things that BYU does.”

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