Harvard University launched a $ 6.5 billion capital campaign that, if successful, would be the largest fundraising effort in the history of higher education.
The university yesterday said the campaign had broad goals spanning all its schools and would fund research into neuroscience, stem cell science and low-cost energy for the developing world.
The campaign would target major renovations of the university's undergraduate housing and increase its study of new learning and teaching strategies.
It also aims to expand the school's global presence,including through an ongoing project to develop a center in Shanghai for conferences and research.
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said the campaign will help the school meet the world's increasingly complex and pressing needs.
"We will meet these challenges, and in doing so, we will reaffirm what makes Harvard and universities in general such essential and irreplaceable contributors to the pursuit of knowledge and the welfare," Faust said in a press release.
The campaign quietly began two years ago. Harvard says it has already raised $ 2.8 billion in gifts and pledges, some of which has already been used.
The school aims to reach its $ 6.5 billion goal by 2018.
If it does so, the campaign would surpass a five-year, $ 6.2 billion campaign by Stanford University that ended last year.
Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania have completed multiyear fundraising campaigns that netted $ 3.9 billion and $ 3.5 billion, respectively.
Harvard's endowment at the end of the last fiscal year was $ 30.7 billion.
Asked why people would give to an already wealthy school like Harvard and not some other cause, Harvard Provost Alan Garber said the school has a history of helping solve the world's problems and donors believe "Harvard can do uniquely well."
"This ranges from educational innovation to scientific breakthroughs that have changed the world," he said.
Although it's called a capital campaign, the focus expands past buildings into what Harvard officials have defined as the school's greatest needs.
The school said about 45 per cent of the money raised would support teaching and research, 25 per cent would go to financial aid and student services, 20 per cent would go to capital improvements and 10 per cent would foster collaborations and other initiatives.