Frequently Asked Questions

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​Why is Columbia Engineering fundraising right now - can’t it wait until the Coronavirus pandemic is over?

Columbia Engineering must raise philanthropic dollars every year to support core needs like financial aid, faculty support, and student-facing programming. The money we raise today not only supports these ongoing needs but also positions the School to withstand the financial challenges associated with COVID-19 in the months ahead. Philanthropic dollars have always played an important role in the basic operations and growth of the School. However, this is more true now than ever when our students needs have risen. 

Why does Columbia need my support - doesn’t it have a $10 billion endowment?

The University endowment is significant, although Columbia Engineering receives an allocation of less than 10% of the value (as the University has 16 schools and other institutes). Columbia Engineering receives a distribution of 5% interest per year from its portion of the endowment, which is not enough to cover all operating costs and our commitment to financial aid, faculty and research due in part because tuition income is also used in other areas. As a result, philanthropic dollars provide the funding necessary to cover the remaining expenses needed to support the mission of the School. 

Why can’t Columbia Engineering use its portion of the endowment to cover a budget shortfall?

The majority of endowed funds are restricted and must be spent in accordance with a donor’s intentions. For example, if a donor makes an endowed gift to support a faculty position, Columbia Engineering must uphold donor intent and may not use this gift to cover expenses unrelated to the original intent of the gift. 

Why can’t the principal of the endowment be spent, instead of just the interest?

The purpose of the endowment is the same as any invested fund: to provide sustainable support over the long-term, and in many cases, for specific initiatives or programs. It is not a general reserve or “slush fund”, rather, it ensures the long-term health and security of the University. While the Trustees have the power to choose to draw additional funds from the endowment to address extraordinary challenges, subject to donor consent, funds cannot be taken without limitation. To do so would sacrifice the institution’s future security.