Focus: Urban’s endowment growing but still behind other Bay Area schools

Eli Dinkelspiel, Staff Writer

Last year, nearly 42 percent of applicants to Urban requested financial aid.

So it was no surprise when a recent Legend survey found that 34 percent of Urban students — the single-largest group of respondents — wanted more financial aid over improvements such as new facilities and more teachers.

Urban’s website states that “The Urban School of San Francisco awards financial aid on … the availability of funds.”

Unfortunately, Urban’s endowment — a key way it pays for financial aid and supports a more diverse student body — lags far behind competing Bay Area schools.

An endowment is a sum of money that generates interest, which is then used for various purposes. While the interest can be spent any way the owner chooses, the actual endowment is never diminished; the principal is off-limits.

The current endowment at Urban is $5.5 million, paling in comparison to huge endowments like Lick-Wilmerding High School’s massive $40 million endowment, or University High School’s “over $20 million,” according to Brisen Brady, Urban’s director of development.

“It’s not surprising that our endowment is still small; Lick is twice the age we are,” says Susan Munn, Urban’s director of finance and operations. However, endowments at both Marin Academy and University outpace Urban’s, and all three schools were founded at similar times.

Why does an endowment matter to Urban students? Urban is looking at constructing a new building in the next few years, which will be a huge drain on resources. “The first thing a school needs to attend to is its bricks and mortar,” said Munn.

However, most of the funds generated by the endowment now go towards financial aid for students. The larger Urban’s endowment is, the more Urban can afford to accomplish all of its goals. In the Legend survey, students who receive aid voted for more financial aid more than half of the time.

Despite the Urban endowment’s financial woes, the last few years have shown real growth. In 2009, Urban started the Major Gift Task Force, “specifically with the purpose of raising major gifts for the school,” explained Brady. The gifts given to the school as a part of the task force are mainly from seniors, alumni, and families. In 2010, the graduating class gave $140,000 to the Task Force, the largest amount yet given by a graduating class.

“When you’re a senior, you have this opportunity to give back to the school,” explained Munn.

Alum Sean Judkins-Boeri (’11) said that he is eager to donate to the endowment.

“I was more than happy to give back to a place that had given me so much over the last four years,” Judkins-Boeri said.