Carle Illinois College of Medicine's fundraising off target

Carle Illinois College of Medicine's fundraising off target

URBANA — As the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine prepares to admit its first class of recruits, administrators are rethinking the financing model for the college.

The UI is about $25 million behind its target in an eight-year, $135 million fundraising plan to support the engineering-based medical school.

Carle Health System is carrying the financial load for the first few years, pledging $100 million over 10 years, as well as $1.5 million annually for operating costs.

So far, the UI has raised $20 million, but administrators had hoped to have $44.8 million in gifts and pledges by this time, according to the agreement signed with Carle in August 2015.

"Although the fundraising targets were set several years ago, we are at a point where we need to rethink the whole business model and the financial plan, to ensure that the future of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine moves forward," Chancellor Robert Jones told UI trustees last week.

He said the college has had strong support from donors, including gifts for the "32 for 32" scholarship effort to provide four years of free tuition to the first class of students admitted next fall.

But most of the gifts have been restricted for specific uses, rather than more open-ended support as anticipated in the original fundraising plan, said Vice Chancellor for Advancement Barry Benson.


Jones said he met last month with the leadership of Carle and "started a conversation that is going to bring clarity about that fundraising goal and what the financial model and the business model will be going forward."

"There's mutual recognition that some of the assumptions made in the past need to be rethought at this point," he said.

Benson said the original affiliation agreement anticipated that private support would come in the form of cash and unrestricted endowment gifts.

Raising $20 million so far is "certainly something to be proud of," Benson said, but the amount and type of gifts "just look and feel a little different from what was anticipated."

"The assumptions that were made a few years ago may or may not be relevant today," said Benson, who was not at the UI at the time.

Jones' comments at a March 5 UI trustee committee meeting were prompted by a question from Trustee Stuart King, a Champaign physician. King said Friday he had heard that the university was having trouble meeting its targets and wanted to find out how the campus planned to "bring us into full compliance with the agreed-upon terms."

"As we move forward partnering with Google or Apple or Amazon, we want them to know we're a partner that can be relied upon to meet our commitments. I believe we are that partner. That's why I asked for the plan to meet those commitments.

"We don't want to make the college of medicine just successful. We want to make it exceptional. I'm just making sure we keep it on the front burner," King said.


Li: 'Lean and mean'

Jones said he would meet again soon with Carle officials and develop an outline with a "revised vision about the fundraising effort, clarifying what will be counting toward that original goal and clarifying the kind of support that we know we already have acquired, and the other kind of support that is necessary to make this work," he said.

It would also clarify the relationship between Carle and the university, he said, "to ensure a sound financial future for the Carle Illinois College of Medicine."

Dean King Li emphasized that the medical school is financially stable. While philanthropy will be important to fund student scholarships, support innovative research projects and send students to work in urban and rural areas or even overseas, it's "really not urgently needed for operational funding," he said.

The college has relatively low operating costs compared to other medical schools because so many of its faculty members are UI researchers who were already on campus, he said. It's paying them part-time, rather than hiring a slew of full-time faculty — the biggest costs for most medical schools, Li said.

Many Carle physicians also volunteered to be clinical faculty, so "we don't have to use a lot of money to attract them," Li said.

"We are lean and mean," he said.

And once the college has four full classes of 64 students, "we'll be self-sustaining," he said.


Carle 'committed'

The school won't continue to offer free tuition to all students after the first year, but it hopes to provide full or partial scholarships to "a significant percentage," Li said.

The $20 million raised so far includes money for 19 of the 32 scholarships for the inaugural class, $10 million for a new simulation center, and $1.2 million for a "Bio Maker Lab."

Raising money for a new medical school that has no alumni or grateful patients can be challenging, Benson said. And other new medical schools being launched around the country are also looking for philanthropy dollars, he said.

"If you compare us to other peers, we're actually doing pretty darn well," Benson said. "Certainly both Carle and the university are committed to this."

The effort is part of an overall $2.25 billion fund drive announced by the campus last fall. It's already raised about half of that goal.

While there's no shortage of priorities on the list, Benson said he doesn't think the medical school has suffered from competing with other projects. Rather, because of its connections to departments across campus, the medical school has helped leverage other support, he said.

The Bio Maker Lab, for example, will enable students from the medical school, bioengineering and the life sciences to "design, build and test next-generation solutions to complex medical problems while developing skills through hands-on projects," he said.


Wise weighs in

Former UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise was the driving force behind the medical school but stepped down under pressure in 2015. She had personally courted donors for the project.

Benson wouldn't speculate whether her departure led any donors to withdraw their support.

Contacted in Colorado, where she's heading a new "biogenome" project, Wise said she hopes donors remain committed to the medical school.

"When there's disruption in the leadership, I think what people do is they step back and want to make sure the college will still come about, and that the new leadership embraces the importance of it. I would hope that anybody who hesitated will realize that it's going to become a reality, and their support is critical to its success," she said.

Wise, who worked on a curriculum committee for the medical school as a faculty member before leaving the university in 2017, said she hadn't heard about any fundraising challenges.

"I am so happy that it's going forward," she said, crediting the "incredible people" who turned the original vision into action.

Carle executives were in board meetings Friday and weren't available for comment. In a statement, spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks Kaufmann said Carle is pleased with the progress made in developing a curriculum and recruiting students for the new college.

"Carle has provided funding as planned and as part of the partnership, we hold regular budget and operational meetings. We remain committed to this important endeavor and look forward to admitting the first class in the fall," she said.