Harvard University launched the public phase of a $6.5 billion fundraising campaign on Saturday. If successful, it would be the largest fundraising effort in the history of higher education.
Harvard privately began the campaign two years ago, and has already raised $2.8 billion.
The school hopes to reach $6.5 billion by 2018.
If the university reaches its goal, the campaign would surpass previous record-holder Stanford University, which raised $6.2 billion in a five-year campaign ending in 2012. Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania have completed multi-year fundraising campaigns that netted $3.9 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively.
The funds would be used for a wide variety of improvements and expansions at Harvard, most notably the creation of a new campus in Allston, Mass., across a river from its current main campus. The money would also go toward a vast expansion of its School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which is currently one of the university's most popular schools.
Harvard also plans to invest in research in neuroscience, stem cell science and low-cost energy for the developing world, as well as put money toward new faculty, financial aid and dorm renovation.
Harvard kicked off this phase of the campaign with a speech from Harvard President Drew Faust and a question-and-answer session for students with Harvard dropout and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Faust said the campaign will help the school meet the world's increasingly complex and pressing needs, noting that higher education is rapidly changing.
"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 of the world," Faust said in a press release.
Even if the campaign is unsuccessful, the school still has a significant nest egg to fall back on. Harvard's endowment at the end of the last fiscal year was $30.7 billion.
Al Jazeera and wire services