By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Some people might hear the words “private school” and think the students who attend are affluent and privileged.
At Bethany Lutheran College, that’s just not the case. About 98 percent of students qualify for financial aid with 42 percent qualifying for Pell Grants.
Donations are vital to the college to help offset costs for well-deserving students who want to attend Bethany but can’t afford it, said Art Westphal, chief advancement officer. That’s why he loves to see donors actually get to meet the students they support and hear them say, “I wouldn’t be at Bethany if it weren’t for the financial assistance.”
“Donors really are making a difference for the students,” Westphal said.
Over the past five years, donors have been particularly supportive. Bethany Lutheran College launched its $28 million “Faithful Future” campaign in 2007, and with one year to go until deadline, the college has raised about $26 million.
The case was made for the campaign in December 2006. Needs at Bethany included, first and foremost, the construction of a new academic building to replace Luther Hall, which was 100 years old, and expansion of the college’s communication and media arts programs. The facilities improvements made up $20 million of the $28 million goal.
The breakdown of the remaining $8 million included: $1 million for international education; $2 million for endowed scholarships; $1 million for the library endowment; $1 million for one endowed academic chair; $1 million for faculty development and $2 million in annual support.
The fundraising efforts began at a bad time, Westphal said. In 2008 the economic downturn set in, and the road to recovery has been slow.
“We certainly did see in our visits, as things started to transpire in 2008, donors becoming very cautious,” Westphal said. “We saw that and obviously we understood that. ... So there certainly were those conversations that led to, ‘We can’t do anything right now.’”
However, persistence paid off. Along with the news of the $26 million benchmark, the goal for the scholarship component has been well exceeded with $5.3 million in donations raised. (Donors can specify which areas they would like to see their dollars used.)
“From my personal standpoint, that is so terribly exciting. All of us who have been around education know it’s about the students,” Westphal said. “(It’s wonderful) for our supporters to realize that in light of the rapidly escalating cost of college.”
The facilities improvements already have been made on campus, Westphal said. The new Honsey Hall is at the corner of Division and Marsh streets, and various community groups use the space, including the Mayo Foundation Board and Southern Minnesota Advocates, among others.
In the final stage of fundraising, the college will reach out to alumni and friends of the college to donate in 2013. In the previous phase, the college went to area businesses and community members, and $650,000 in donations came in, Westphal said. A team of local volunteers, including the community campaign director David Wittenberg of U.S. Bank, led the community fundraising portion.
“Donors recognize the importance placed on teaching our future leaders intellectual and creative growth, spiritual development, self-understanding and responsible citizenship,” Wittenberg said. “We are blessed as a region to have an institution like Bethany focused on talent development issues along with their role as a model corporate citizen.”
So far, Westphal said, the campaign has had more than 2,300 donors, including 200 businesses. Of the total $26 million in pledges, 83 percent of that already has been received, he said.