Alexander Aciman’s plea for colleges to stop hitting up indebted grads for donations hit a nerve with readers:
I told Chicago (“The U of C” in my time before their ungrammatical and inelegant rebranding as “UChicago”) they would never see another cent from me as long as the president, Robert Zimmer, was making such crazy, truly crazy, money: $3.4 million at last count, in 2011. I said the same to Harvard – zillions in hand and poor-mouthing all the time.
I have benefited greatly from my education and the opportunity that derives from my degrees from both institutions, but I end up giving my own modest philanthropic dollars to the small liberal arts college where I teach. We don’t have very many big government grants, much less DOD or DOE contracts, propping up the STEM fields. We instead have a relatively poor alumni base of public servants, teacher, preachers, and country doctors, not investment bankers and hedge funders and tycoons. We make do on less than our peers and we teach the students really well.
Also, we don’t require any students to take out loans. Whoever can get in can afford it because we guarantee full demonstrated need with no loans. That’s a huge monetary commitment to do the right thing and it’s coming out of the hides of lots of other things on campus, mainly faculty and staff salaries, academic programming, and delays in new, direly needed teaching and learning spaces.
As an Ivy League graduate who spent more than 10 years helping to raise money from my classmates after we graduated in the 1970s, here’s my theory:
the people like me, who struggled mightily for respect as young alumni, are now in charge of fundraising operations but have failed to understand the much larger impact loans have on current students than they did on earlier generations.
I am very fond of the Ivy League university I attended, but it wasn’t an automatic ticket to riches. I give when I can. But I wish there was a better way for young alumni to contribute to the success of the university other than being badgered for money when they have huge loans. I think strong career networking and strong career services would be a help, but as far as I can tell, the faculty don’t actually care about graduating students who can find jobs with bachelor’s degrees, and so the career office is run by a person with a counseling degree who has no actual hiring experience in the business world.
Another points out a “straightforward” reason alumni offices chase even the tiniest donations:
One of the criteria on which schools are ranked (by organizations like US News & World Report) is the percentage of graduates donating to the school. It’s why I give $5 per year to my alma; it’s a cheap way to do my part to ensure the future worth of my degree.