In many respects, last year was a banner year for Cedar City's comprehensive, regional university.

In addition to welcoming its 15th president, experiencing the largest enrollment growth of any higher education institution in the state and taking its cross country team to the league championships, Southern Utah University brought in record amounts of money in 2007. Donors stepped up fundraising at the institution to an all-time high of $15,490,000 in one year of gifts and pledges.

"This was a red-letter year for SUU in terms of private donations and I would like to thank all those who have voted with their funds and resources to support this remarkable institution and its rising future," SUU President Michael T. Benson said.

Last year's giving totals reached $6 million more than any one year in the school's last comprehensive fundraising campaign, which ran from 1997-2002 and earned the university $43 million. Considering the university is in the early stage of its most ambitious capital campaign to date — which aims to reach a tentative $115 million in five years — a record-funding year this early in the game is a welcome sight to administrators.

"If we are able to reach our campaign goals in time, we'll have to have this kind of backing from our graduates and friends," Benson said.

The university is working on a number of improvements to better serve its 7,059-member student body, as well as the faculty and staff.

According to Stuart Jones, SUU's vice president of advancement, who was actively fundraising in Seattle Tuesday, these expansions "will enable the university to match SUU's potential programming and services with the funding it needs to move forward as a leading university in the state of Utah."

Jones' office targets both regional and national corporations and foundations, as well as Thunderbird alumni and community members to best accomplish funding needs and wishes to keep the school in line with its projected student success.

"Our alumni and friends appreciate and support the role that private funding plays at a university," Jones said. "They know that it takes private support to make good programs great and they know that it can transform an institution."

Most recently, the university received a $2.2 million donation for student housing, allowing them to demolish 40-year-old residences to make way for new facilities. Other highlights in 2007 included a $3 million pledge toward the expansion of the science complex, a $1 million gift to establish an endowed chair and $650,000 to the new Emma Eccles Jones Teacher Education building that will open in a few weeks.

The school also received numerous donations to academic programming, and to SUU's many affiliated organizations including the Utah Shakespearean Festival, the Utah Summer Games and SUU athletics.

"We can be a very good institution with state dollars but it's that private support, we think that has made us a great university," Jones said, adding that administrators are sensing a "groundswell of support" for the campaign and the university in the coming years.

Only 45 percent of the nearly $15.5 million raised went toward construction projects, while nearly $8.5 million was allocated to academic initiatives and university programming. Jones said the campus community is not only benefitting from the increased funding, but many of SUU's faculty and staff have contributed various funding.

On March 6, exactly 110 years after SUU's founders laid the first cornerstone of the Old Main building on campus, the university will host a Founder's Day in conjunction with the rededication of the building and other initial dedications across campus.

E-mail: [email protected]