For more than a century, ambitious leaders including our founder, Reverend Edgar Tufts, have marshaled the Lees-McRae community to aim higher than conventional wisdom would allow. In a letter to patrons in 1903, he describes the institution as “doing a work that no other school can do.” That same spirit lives on today.

Whenever others said something couldn’t be done, like the addition of baccalaureate programs, Lees-McRae rallied its people and supporters with an unwavering dedication to its educational calling. Even through our share of lean times, unified purpose has enabled us to emerge stronger, healthier and more vigorous.

The institution continues to serve the educational needs of the region because of visionary stewardship by members of the Board of Trustees, talented faculty, dedicated staff, enthusiastic alumni, and engaged friends and neighbors. This shared commitment affords us the opportunity to build upon a firm foundation of academic and athletic excellence, while striving to assure a differentiated position among our peers.

Lees-McRae is at an important crossroad—it’s time to take what is worthy and special, what is spiritual and resilient, and make it distinct and exceptional. Plans are underway to introduce graduate programs and a dynamic new academic structure. Therefore, the Board of Trustees is proud to announce: 
The University Campaign for Lees-McRae.
This vision will require extraordinary resources and significant private investment. It’s time once again for this academic community to unite. With a lofty goal of $30 million, we will expand our curricular offerings, strengthen our faculty, improve our beautiful campus, provide scholarship support to outstanding students, and bolster our financial position for years to come.

"Any school that stays alive must adapt itself to changing times. Almost from the beginning Lees-McRae was in a constant state of change and growth."

Margaret Tufts Neal
And Set Aglow a Sacred Flame

The University Campaign for Lees-McRae

Dynamic educational experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, prepare Lees-McRae graduates to think on their feet, work in teams, and analyze and synthesize information to tackle problems. Our graduates demonstrate regard for the natural environment and embrace life-long learning to further intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual growth.

Contributions to this comprehensive philanthropic effort help the institution pursue its mission to educate and inspire 21st century leaders. Only through collective support of the needs and priorities identified by the Campaign—enhanced academics, strengthened scholarship assistance, modernized infrastructure, and renewed endowment—will Lees-McRae attain new heights.

u·ni·ver·si·ty (n.)

  1. An educational institution for higher learning that confers degrees in professional fields, arts and sciences.
  2. The students, faculty and staff of such an institution and the buildings where they live and study.

c. 1300. Middle English from Old French université, "academic community," from Medieval Latin ūniversitās, "a number of persons associated as one," from Latin ūniversus, "the whole, aggregate."

People are found at the heart of a university. Students, faculty and staff joined together by a commitment to learning—ELEVATED AS ONE.

Since our founding in 1900, our people have been recognized for a shared concern for humanity and a willingness to work hard and make sacrifices. According to institutional biographer Margaret Tufts Neal, these activities “created a family atmosphere and lasting bonds of friendship and loyalty to each other and Lees-McRae.”

The elements of the Campaign facilitate a natural progression to student-centered interdisciplinary schools that better align and promote existing curricular strengths. A reinvigorated faculty-led academic structure intensifies our engagement with both residential and online learners and provides the means for the addition of graduate programs.

Lees-McRae is ranked among the best regional colleges and universities by U.S. News and World Report, fiscally sound by Forbes Magazine, technologically advanced by CNN Money, and a good value by Affordable Colleges and Online Colleges. As the campus community seeks an even greater future, the transition to University marks the next step in our continued evolution.



The academic programs must continue to grow and reflect a perpetually changing society. Investment in new programs, enhancement of traditional areas of excellence and recruitment of additional high-quality faculty will position Lees-McRae to better recruit and retain the next generation of community leaders. The recently completed May School of Nursing and Health Sciences will serve as the prototype for additional interdisciplinary schools, including the School of Business, the School of Arts, Humanities and Education, and the School of Natural and Biological Sciences. The Schools will offer numerous undergraduate programs and introduce graduate degrees, in both traditional and online formats. 

OVERALL GOAL: $13,375,000


    Giving Opportunities


    Goal: $6,500,000

    A product of the philanthropy of Daniel and Dianne May, the May School of Nursing and Health Sciences is a modern 18,000 square foot facility. The building is paid for, the curriculum accredited by CCNE and approved by the state, and the programs are fully enrolled.

    Baccalaureate nursing education builds upon knowledge acquired in the humanities and biological, physical, social, and behavioral sciences. By engaging in state-of-the-art technologies, high-fidelity simulation, and other advanced teaching strategies, the May School of Nursing and Health Sciences graduate is prepared to care for individuals, communities, and populations of all ages and social strata. The integration of principles of nursing research, leadership, and management also prepares graduates to function as informed members of interdisciplinary healthcare teams.


    Goal: $1,000,000

    To build on institutional strengths and meet marketplace demands, Lees-McRae will create a dynamic School of Business that will foster the integration of the business administration, sports management, and outdoor and wilderness recreation management programs. The naming of the new School will enable the renovation of a current building. In the new school structure, faculty will lead students in real world lessons, through leadership training and experiential learning in a highly competitive business environment.


    Goal: $1,000,000

    Of the many factors that contribute to university excellence, none is more important than outstanding faculty. The best professors push their fields forward in new, innovative directions and inspire their students to do the same. Lees-McRae faculty embody those qualities, exemplifying excellence in every area of teaching. Competition for the best teaching talent has grown substantially and we presently have few tangible tools to retain our top teachers. By supporting salary, benefits and other related expenses, endowed professorships will help us to recognize, reward and retain distinguished professors as well as recruit exceptional new faculty.


    Goal: $2,200,000

    Since Carson Library was built in 1968, library services have evolved dramatically. The services that modern university libraries must provide now go well beyond books and periodicals. Technology has transformed libraries into hubs for the electronic exchange of information.

    With updated technology and expanded learning and research opportunities, the Dotti M. Shelton Learning Commons will be the center for student interaction on campus, providing an improved study environment and access to the advanced tools students need to prepare for job opportunities and graduate school.


    Goal: $500,000

    The May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at Lees-McRae is the only academic-based facility of its kind in the United States. Students gain knowledge and apply skills to the care and rehabilitation of abandoned or injured creatures. Through hands-on training and education, students prepare for jobs in zoos, aquariums, raptor centers, and state and national parks. The Center is dedicated to the stewardship of the earth through environmental education and animal care.


    Goal: $650,000

    One of the key components of a traditional liberal arts education is the presence of strong science offerings in the curriculum. As Lees-McRae continues to attract students with ever-stronger academic credentials, the demand for additional academic programs in the sciences, along with the need for contemporary laboratory space and equipment, has increased. It is imperative that we provide students, and faculty who teach in the sciences, with the tools they need to excel.


    Goal: $525,000

    Hayes Auditorium is a jewel in the crown of our institution. The space has hosted hundreds of student and community performances and welcomed thousands of patrons through the years. Urgently needed renovations of Hayes Auditorium include the installation of comfortable auditorium seating, sound enhancement walls, projectors and screens, and upgraded technical lighting, in addition to the replacement of the roof.


    Goal: $500,000

    The design studio has created opportunities for students to explore an array of skills essential in technical theatre and stage management careers. These include set design, lighting, stretching canvas, welding and use of power tools. The design studio provides students a learning laboratory in which to experiment and train for the future.


    Goal: $500,000

    The BB&T Leadership Institute, housed in the new School of Business, will provide students and faculty members with the opportunity to advance their leadership skills in business, education, science and the workplace. The program will feature workshops, guest speakers, symposia and interdisciplinary activities. Students will have the opportunity to be certified as graduates of the BB&T Leadership Institute.


The diversity of the student body is one important element of the Lees-McRae experience. The institution is made up of more than 1,000 students from more than 35 states and 10 foreign countries. Recruiting and retaining this varied group is a challenge, but Lees-McRae is committed to providing the highest quality education to all students. We must further the investments necessary to recruit today’s young adults and provide the support network they need to succeed.

OVERALL GOAL: $4,000,000


    Giving Opportunities


    Goal: $3,000,000

    Our commitment to growing endowed scholarship funds is driven by our desire to ensure rising tuition rates do not put a quality, value-centered education out of reach for many families. Lees-McRae is proud to be consistently recognized as a great value for students, providing an excellent education that is financially manageable. Endowed scholarships provide both need-based and merit-based aid to help offset the cost of tuition.

    Nevertheless, as families continue to struggle in these challenging economic times, students require greater financial assistance than ever before. The institution must provide continued support for gifted students in need of aid to continue their education.


    Goal: $1,000,000

    An investment in enrollment management activities will allow us to develop and implement a comprehensive public relations and communication plan targeted toward all constituents: current and prospective students, parents, alumni, community members, corporations, foundations, faculty and staff. This important multi-year initiative will increase awareness of Lees-McRae, allow us to realize and maintain full enrollment capacity, and cultivate strong and lasting relationships that promote ongoing alumni, parent and community engagement.


Improvements to the physical plant will demonstrate to prospective and current students our ongoing commitment to improving the spaces in which they live and learn. The beautiful native stone buildings are Banner Elk and High Country landmarks and endure as a wonderful legacy to our founder. It is our responsibility to steward the historic Lees-McRae infrastructure and surrounding environment for the use of future generations. 

OVERALL GOAL: $4,075,000


    Giving Opportunities


    Goal: $1,250,000

    Lees-McRae is blessed with many venerable native stone buildings, the construction of which would be cost-prohibitive today. While we are privileged to have these structures, upgrades delayed in the past are now long overdue. To continue to provide safe, comfortable, and technologically advanced living spaces, the institution must renovate its residence halls. Restoration plans at Tate (formerly Grace Hospital), Tennessee and Virginia Residence Halls include rooms, restrooms, laundry facilities, student lounges and study areas.


    Goal: $1,600,000

    Lees-McRae students come to the mountains of Western North Carolina expecting to grow intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our students deserve a rich academic and co-curricular program to accomplish those aspirations. Physical fitness and the ability to engage in exercise have never been more important to a generation of college-aged students. The harsh winter climate necessitates the availability of indoor recreation.

    The Arthur Student Recreation Complex (SRC) will create an optimal environment to gather and participate in both individual and group fitness activities in a facility that will enhance the total residential experience. The SRC will continue to provide an active and engaged student body, athletes and non-athletes, with a dedicated weight and fitness area, current cardiovascular equipment and other multipurpose spaces for aerobic exercise and conditioning.


    Goal: $250,000

    Our picturesque mountain campus is one of our strongest assets. The transition to University provides an opportunity to revitalize instructional identity, including signage, campus entrances and other means of wayfinding that engage residents and visitors alike.


    Goal: $975,000

    Many of our most significant structures are overdue for major renovation. Tufts Tower, Chaffee Building and The Pinnacle Room already see (or could see) significant use as classrooms, student meeting areas, event spaces and office facilities. The vitally important nature of these buildings and spaces require us to provide for their structural integrity now, so that they can continue to meet the needs of coming generations of students and faculty.

    Lees-McRae is a growth-oriented, tuition-based institution of higher education. This business model has served us well and has enabled continued progress in the ever-changing marketplace. Dedicating a remodeled, physical space in Chaffee Building to welcome potential new students and their families, both traditional and transfer, will create a “first impression” experience that is second to none. This welcome center will provide spaces for family financial aid counseling, recruitment presentations and group orientation meetings.

    In addition to the renovations of historic buildings, a number of other buildings and capital projects need attention. MacDonald Dining Hall and the Office of Marketing and Communications, located behind Tate Hall, are two buildings to be addressed. Renovations to these areas will help us better serve our existing students and allow the institution to enhance communications to future ones. We also acknowledge the need for upgrading walkways and lighting to ensure the safety and well-being of our campus community.

    Chaffee Welcome Center $400,000
    Communications Building $125,000
    MacDonald Dining Hall $100,000
    The Pinnacle Room $250,000
    Tufts Tower Restoration $100,000


More than 40 percent of the Lees-McRae main campus student body participates in intercollegiate sports—these student-athletes perform at high levels on and off the field because of their connection to their teammates, coaches and school. The current athletic facilities are not suitable to support the existing athletic teams. In order for student-athletes to compete successfully at the NCAA Division II level, renovations and improvements must be made to both the indoor and outdoor playing venues.

OVERALL GOAL: $3,250,000


    Giving Opportunities


    Goal: $500,000

    Providing our students and spectators with a positive athletic experience, this renovation will include the installation of new, comfortable seating and modern athletic bathrooms and showers. These upgrades are imperative to remain competitive in Conference Carolinas, as well as to attract and retain student-athletes.


    Goal: $1,750,000

    The winter and spring climates in the North Carolina mountains often prohibit our athletes from practicing outdoors. To meet necessary recruitment and enrollment expectations of current and prospective families, a 21st century athletic complex, including an all-weather track, and a turf field for soccer and lacrosse is needed. An indoor training facility will be used by members of all athletic teams and will be home to athletic training rooms and coaching offices.


    Goal: $550,000

    As an institution we must provide student-athletes reliable and safe transportation to games, tournaments and rallies. A philanthropic investment in this area will ensure we are able to transport members of our athletic teams to and from events, safely and on time.


    Goal: $200,000

    A swimming complex is a valued amenity for a campus our size in our geographical climate, giving our students, faculty and staff the opportunity to exercise even when Mother Nature is not so kind. The current swimming complex will be converted to saline with improved ventilation. This complex will be used for classes, competitions and new athletic opportunities.


    Goal: $250,000

    Collegiate cycling is becoming more and more competitive. The remodeled cycling facility will enhance our groundbreaking program and enable it to continue to grow and thrive. A philanthropic naming opportunity will provide a training facility for this popular sport in our physically challenging mountainous terrain. Creating a performance center, locker room and other needed space is critical for this important program to thrive.


The Fund for Lees-McRae is the lifeblood of the institution, filling the gap between tuition revenue and operating expenses. It is imperative during the life of the campaign that our loyal patrons continue to give on an annual basis. Annual gifts not only ensure that operating expenses are met, but enable us to continue operating with balanced budgets. The endowment provides a critical reserve for the long-term stability of the institution.

OVERALL GOAL: $5,500,000


    Giving Opportunities


    Goal: $2,500,000

    Nothing is more vital to operations than unrestricted support that can be used to fund programs and services of the highest priority, such as scholarship support, student and professional development, library acquisitions, classroom and laboratory equipment, and student co-curricular activities. Unrestricted funding enables us to meet unforeseen challenges and move quickly to grasp new opportunities as they arise.

    Through The Fund for Lees-McRae, all donors can play a transformative role in the life of the institution, the students it educates and the lives it changes. With strong support for The Fund for Lees-McRae, we will be able to maintain and elevate our motto of service: “In the Mountains, Of the Mountains, For the Mountains.”


    Goal: $3,000,000

    To ensure long-term strength and stability, the institution depends on an endowment that stands at approximately $12.6 million in managed funds. Each year, Lees-McRae draws down five percent of its total endowment, in essence turning the interest accrued into spendable resources. The remainder is invested to preserve the principal and prudently grow overall value.

    Today, the endowment provides support of Lees-McRae’s operating budget. It helps to fund every aspect of the institution, including academics and student programs, general operating expenses and the physical plant.

    Because of the endowment’s importance to our economic strength and stability, as well as our ability to support students, Lees-McRae has ambitious goals for increasing the general endowment.

Campaign Leadership

The success of The University Campaign for Lees-McRae depends on communal dedication to its goals and priorities. All constituents—students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and friends—can make the difference in the ongoing success and advancement of this venerable institution.

Dianne May 

Barbara Miller-Whitton

Lees-McRae has a rich history of vibrant female leadership, generosity and support. The institution remains one of the few named for two women: Elizabeth McRae, a teacher, and Susanna P. Lees, an early benefactor.

"The institutions which serve the mountains must develop with the changing lives they serve..."
Rev. Edgar Tufts