Although Duquesne University had enjoyed almost one hundred years of comfortable existence, its financial situation appeared very dire in the spring of 1970. The issues had been mounting for a number of years, but several factors contributed to the crisis coming to a head. Duquesne was expanding its campus with the construction of College Hall, but had not raised enough money to cover its completion. Debt from this new building, as well as other loans, meant that local banks were reluctant to give the university additional credit. Additionally, issues with Pennsylvania’s budget meant that Duquesne was not receiving its full funding from the state and students were not getting government educational grants and loans on time. The current tuition rate was no longer enough to cover the increasing costs of campus maintenance and staff salaries, causing Duquesne to rapidly spiral deeper into debt. The two options appeared to be to raise tuition again, or close the school. Duquesne’s tuition had already steadily increased each year for current students and the university did not want to surprise them with another hike in tuition. Duquesne was also afraid of losing students to public schools as the school’s enrollment had already decreased due to the lower cost of public universities. Therefore, because Duquesne did not have enough income from tuition to cover all of its operating costs, and found itself unable to take out any more loans due to the university’s existing debts, the college was headed toward financial ruin.
Duquesne was not alone in its financial woes. Many private colleges were dealing with similar fiscal problems during this time. Higher education was becoming increasingly expensive and universities responded in a variety of ways. Duquesne’s president at the time, Fr. McAnulty, was unique in asking his students for input on the financial crisis. He met with a group of students to explain the problems that the university faced and to ask for their help. Fr. McAnulty desired a solution that did not involve further burdening students with increased tuition, or closing the university’s doors for good. The students Fr. McAnulty met with came up with a third alternative: initiating a campaign to raise enough money to save Duquesne. Thus, the Third Alternative was born.