A massive blue banner looms over Terminal 2’s security checkpoint at the Oakland International Airport.
“By the time you reach your destination we’ll probably have a new invention,” it reads. “UC researchers average 4 inventions a day — constantly moving California forward.”
“It’s clever,” said Arnold Asuncion, a chemical engineering graduate from UC Berkeley. “As a Cal grad, I buy it. But it’s not something I was used to seeing from the UC.”
The banner is part of an almost $3 million campaign by the UC Office of the President that aims to educate Californians like Asuncion about the impact the university has in their everyday lives and to remind them of the importance of supporting the UC system.
In the face of ever-dwindling state funding, it’s also about raising money.
“The whole goal of the tour is to really connect with California and ensure that Californians understand the role that the UC plays in their lives in sort of unexpected and daily ways,” said Jason Simon, director of marketing communications at the UC Office of the President.
In addition to print and TV advertisements that play during UC Berkeley and UCLA football games on major cable networks and an NPR radio sponsorship, the campaign features a 25-foot tour bus currently making its way across California. Funding for the campaign comes from the Searles Fund — an unrestricted gift that finances operations not covered by state funds.
“It’s disappointing that we have to go to the California public and convince them that this incredible public education system that has helped build the state provides value in their lives,” said UC Student Regent Jonathan Stein. “It should be a no-brainer.”
The bus offers people the chance to share their connections with and appreciation of the university by writing postcards, taking photos and adding stickers to the “I believe in UC” sticker wall. Those mementos will serve as proof of people’s commitment to the university, Simon said.
“Given that the university has faced over a billion dollars in cuts over the last four years, it is a critical time to be talking about the value of the university to Californians,” Simon added. “We want people to be strong advocates for the university.”
Over the last two years, California suffered dramatic decreases in state funding, which dropped from about $11.16 billion in state support in fiscal year 2010-11 to about $9.66 billion in fiscal year 2011-12 for a total decrease of 13.5 percent, according to a study published Jan. 23 by Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
To fill the gaps left by the cuts, many UC campuses have increased reliance on private philanthropy to fund many academic and research programs — a trend that reaches far beyond the UC system and even the state of California.
In 2011, UC Berkeley raised $283.35 million in donations by emulating fundraising campaigns of private universities, according to a survey by the Council for Aid to Education released Feb. 15.
In a venture similar to the UC system’s campaign, in 2011, the University of Colorado Boulder — which only receives 4.5 percent of its budget from state funding — started to heavily publicize a major fundraising campaign called Creating Futures. Like Onward California, the campaign was geared at increasing private donations by informing state residents about its research and inventions.
The University of Colorado Boulder raised about $228 million last year — $110 million of which came in through the university’s fundraising arm, according to Jeremy Simon, director of marketing and communications at the university.
“We’re seeing people respond positively to the idea that CU makes an impact,” Jeremy Simon said. “The campaign is a chance to generate public momentum to set the public stage for the idea that private support is increasingly important to CU and all public universities.”
At the UC level, Onward California comes at a crucial time for state public education as voters decide whether to increase the tax rate on the wealthiest of Californians and raise the state sales tax by a quarter-percent over the next four years by passing Proposition 30. If voters reject Prop. 30 in November, the university will incur large cuts to its already meager funding from the state.
At the campus level, UC Berkeley will be dealt $50 million in cuts, potentially forcing a 20.3 percent midyear tuition hike on students.
“I wish Onward California wasn’t even necessary,” said Stein. “I wish we were still a state that understood that public universities benefit everyone in California. But, unfortunately, we are a state that has forgotten that strong public universities drive our economic growth, and that’s why we need something like Onward California to convince voters that public higher education matters in their lives.”
The campaign’s tour bus is expected to make a stop at UC Berkeley on Friday and Saturday, just in time for the Big Game against Stanford University.
Senior staff writer Christopher Yee contributed to this report.