University announces “Change Can’t Wait” campaign with $500 million goal

AU has raised 54 percent of goal, now calls on community to “sustain” momentum

University announces “Change Can’t Wait” campaign with $500 million goal

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

Editor's Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that the University raised 54 percent of its goal by October.

American University is embarking on a new “Change Can’t Wait” campaign that aims to raise $500 million, President Sylvia Burwell announced in a live stream Wednesday. 

The University had already raised $270 million, about 54 percent of its goal, by this past October. However, due to the ongoing circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, they ultimately decided to refrain from announcing the campaign out of sensitivity to the financial hardship being faced by community members, according to Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Courtney Surls. 

The $500 million goal intends to “transform the student experience, fund scholarly research that produces impact now, and help build better communities,” Burwell wrote in an email.

The announcement called on alumni and the AU community to continue the momentum and included testimonials from faculty and students speaking as to why change “can’t wait.”

“It expands our ability to take on urgent and complex challenges,” Burwell said in the announcement. “From improving mental health and addressing social inequity, to bolstering democracy and building a more inclusive society.”

Planning for “Change Can’t Wait” began in 2017, soon after Burwell’s arrival. Until now, the campaign has been in its “quiet phase.” During a student media briefing on Monday, Surls described it as a period of “testing” to see if alumni would be interested in giving to this cause. 

The announcement accompanies AU’s new “Challenge Accepted” brand campaign. Both efforts are part of the University’s “Changemakers for a Changing World” five-year strategic plan.

Surls explained that the campaign is intended to “raise awareness of some needs of students,” including financial aid, mental health resources and experiential learning opportunities. 

“For 18 years, there wasn’t a concerted effort to tell people what was important to us,” Surls said.

The goal is to invite donors to invest in the student body, which the administration says is ultimately an investment in the future of society at large.

The campaign has three pillars — elevate, inspire and lead. 

According to the website, the first pillar, elevate, is dedicated to making “an AU education more accessible, affordable, and empowering,” with an emphasis on helping first-generation students, growing programs like the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholar program and improving the athletic center.

“Elevate” states AU’s commitment to “increased financial aid and scholarships, and greater access to experiential learning.” In specific steps, the University outlines its goal of eliminating debt for outstanding students with the highest need as well as increasing affordability and access for middle-income students. The University also plans to “provide equitable access to internships and experiential learning.”

The second, "inspire," emphasizes faculty research and opportunity. The website cited the Sine Institute and the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab. The announcement also shared a recent $5 million donation to the Hall of Science by University trustee and alumnus Gary Abramson. According to the website, the campaign will help the University double the amount of donor-funded chairs, establish endowed chairs and attract more faculty in the areas of data science and analytics, health, security and social equity.

The third pillar is “lead,” which solidifies the University’s commitment to improving the state of education in D.C. through the School of Education and promoting free speech with the School of Public Affairs’ Project on Civil Discourse.

kcorliss@theeagleonline.com and cmulroy@theeagleonline.com 

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