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Penn St.: Donations 2nd highest in school history

STATE COLLEGE – Penn State received more than $208 million in donations for the fiscal year that just ended, the second-highest total in university history despite the upheaval after the arrest of Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges.

The school said Monday there was a slight uptick in the number of alumni who donated money or gifts in the fiscal year that ended June 30 to more than 75,500, reversing two years of slight declines.

"We're very grateful — humbled really — to have this kind of response from Penn Staters, who I think have rallied to the cause ... by the side of the institution through a very difficult time," Rod Kirsch, senior vice president for development and alumni relations, said Monday in an interview.

The number of donors overall — which would include corporations and non-alumni — also rose slightly to more than 191,000. Donations included gifts for scholarships; as well as increases in giving to the football booster club and the annual student-organized dance marathon to raise money for pediatric cancer patients and research.

Only the 2010 fiscal year was more prolific for Penn State, when the school raised more than $274 million. What Kirsch described as a "bonanza year" for fundraising was due in large part to an $88 million gift by Terry Pegula, and founder and former president of an energy company involved in Pennsylvania's burgeoning natural gas industry. Pegula earmarked the gift, which is the largest private donation in Penn State history, to upgrade the school's club hockey team to Division I and build an arena.

Pegula has since increased his commitment to $102 million. He said at a groundbreaking ceremony in April that he didn't waver even after the turmoil that embroiled the campus after retired defensive coordinator Sandusky was arrested in November. It led to the ouster of head coach Joe Paterno, a move criticized by some alumni and former players.

Sandusky is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of 45 criminal counts last month.

The findings from the school's internal investigation, led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, are also expected to be released soon. Those conclusions could weigh heavily on whether the university can settle any civil lawsuits out of court.

The school has said private donations will not be used to pay for legal costs. The school isn't deviating from its overall goal of raising $2 billion in the current, seven-year fundraising campaign that began in 2007, Kirsch said. Including the most recent $208 million figure, about $1.6 billion has been raised for that campaign.

"Keep in mind we are not only dealing with the crisis we're still going through, but we're dealing with a tough economic environment still," Kirsch said. "In that context, I'm not real surprised, but I'm very grateful for" the donations.

Separately, Penn State reported $223 million in new donation commitments, down 37 percent from the previous year. Kirsch said that was expected given the size of Pegula's gift, and a big fundraising push by the school related to that donation.

The latest fundraising figures were released against the backdrop of a decline in recent years in state funding, which is used to help offset tuition for in-state residents. Penn State trustees are expected to vote on a potential tuition increase at their next meeting Friday in Scranton.

Kirsch said raising money for undergraduate scholarships remained a top priority to keep Penn State affordable. Last year, in-state freshmen and sophomores paid more than $15,000 a year in tuition to attend the main campus in State College, while out-of-state residents paid $27,000.

The school is seeking to raise more money to support faculty. Penn State said it has also raised more than $46 million from current or former faculty and staff, or $3 million more than its initial goal.

That total would include donations made by the Paterno family, such as the annual $100,000 gift in December, a month after Paterno was fired, for the library and an undergraduate fellow program that bears the family name. Paterno died in January of lung cancer at age 85.

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