Why universities ask for (even more) money from you

If you’re a college graduate, you’ve likely received solicitations for donations from your alma mater. My first e-mail solicitation arrived yesterday, on the morning of Valentine’s Day, and featured the adorable bulldog video below and an appeal to contribute to the Drake Fund, the pool of donations that Drake University uses to support student scholarships, University programs and the school’s most immediate needs. I appreciated this solicitation for two reasons: one, because it was just darn cute, and two, because it wasn’t a random, out of the blue appeal — it was tied to the celebration of a holiday.

From the uproar I witnessed on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, many of my fellow recent graduates did not feel the same. These new alumni were outraged that their beloved university had reached out to them for money so soon after graduation — the school where they had invested so much of their money, or their family’s money, over the years, and to which they were still paying back student loans (and likely would be for a while).

As a recent grad myself, I understand that. When I decided to attend a private college, my tuition required that my family make financial sacrifices, and as a graduate I now chip away at my student loan debt each month at the expense of other financial needs. Even so, I still felt unsettled by my peers’ often angry responses to this e-mail across the Internet yesterday. Here’s why:

  • Our tuition is the money we pay to educational institutions in exchange for the education we receive. Just like anything else we purchase, it’s money that we pay in exchange for a service. This is not a “donation” to Drake University. This money pays for the professors who teach us, for the resources we are provided, and for the opportunities to which we are granted access.
  • Student loans may extend the amount of time we have to pay the money we owe to a university, but we’re paying now for something we have already received. Your lender has already paid the university. Your student loan payments do not support the university in any way; they’re going straight to the lender.
  • Attending a university is expensive now, but it will only continue to get more expensive over time. If your university provided you with an exemplary education, if it provided you with the skills that you need to survive after college, if it helped you find your passion or an internship or a job, those benefits you reaped are only going to get more expensive for future generations. Supporting your university helps provide scholarships to the students who need them most, making it possible for more students to share the life-changing experience you had, despite socioeconomic status or financial hardship. If you received scholarships that made your education less expensive, the best way to show gratitude for the opportunities you were given is to pay it forward.

My biggest frustration, though, is the attitude that because we are young, we are somehow excused from giving back. If you want to be the type of person who contributes your time and financial support to the organizations and causes that are important to you, start being that person now — otherwise, you’ll always find excuses or obstacles or “special circumstances” to stand in your way. There are plenty of non-profits that would appreciate your donation of even $5 a month. The donations I make to local and global organizations may seem small, but when compounded with the donations of the people around me, those donations can make a difference. (Want proof? Check out 100+ Chicks for Charity.]

Now here’s a disclaimer: I’m not saying you need to donate to your university. If I was, I’d be a hypocrite, because my donations have thus far been given elsewhere. But if you’re choosing not to support your alma mater, at least understand why your university (still) wants your money.

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6 thoughts on “Why universities ask for (even more) money from you

  1. This was so well put! DePauw asks us for donations before we even receive our diplomas via a senior gift drive. Most of my friends were absolutely livid they asked for money, but I gave the full donation they asked ($20.11 for the class of 2011). DePauw gave me a full ride, making it even cheaper for me to go there than a state school and taking away the financial burden of college for my parents–other than some monthly spending money & textbooks. I’m grateful that they gave me that opportunity, and I don’t have any problems contributing financially. They’ve sent many postcards and pamphlets over the course of this year encouraging the graduates of the last decade (GOLD) to become active donors. We also are given the choice of where our money goes, meaning I can direct my donations to help students like me who would not be able to attend DePauw without generous financial help. I haven’t made a donation since my initial one simply because I’m truly not in a good financial place to make one (I’m starting two businesses, which means living at home with almost no money for a social life for the time being), but I look forward to the day when I can help students and the future of my school.

    • I love the idea of DePauw’s senior gift drive. $20.11 is a small but meaningful amount to ask of graduates and something that could really feel personal to them, because it’s their own graduation year. Thanks for sharing!

  2. How interesting to see most of the comments are about DePauw! That’s where I went (class of 2008.) I’ll admit I’ve been annoyed by these appeals at times, but it comes from a frustration with my own financial and career position. I do understand why the university asks, so I’m okay with it now. This essay spells out great reasons why you should donate. The university gave me a lot (both in terms of education and scholarships) and someday I hope I can help pass it on. But it will be a while before I donate to them financially: “uncommon success”, if I’ve achieved it (debatable), hasn’t translated into an income much above minimum wage. I have donated to the university by going back and talking with current students about a job I’ve held (a common one for recent college grads.) It was a blast, and I recommend it if you can’t donate much financially but want to do something for the alma mater.

    The one solicitation that rubbed me the wrong way was having a current student call me in the spring of 2009, when I was not even one year out of school, had just lost a job, and was in the worst job market and recession in a generation. The chipper girl (who was just doing her job) didn’t seem to process my hesitance to donate $250. She kept going on about how a donation made her winter term trip possible. Nice. I wanted to keep my pay and make gas money possible. I know the university can’t predict who is in what situation, so I can’t get too mad. But boy did it irritate me at the time. So… universities need to be sensitive or they risk turning off potential future donors.

    • I spent a semester during my freshman year working for our call center, where our first ask level was $500. Even $250 is a lot to ask at once — it was definitely a hard sell, and a very challenging job.

      I agree with your point about giving back by speaking to current students — I’ve had several opportunities to stay involved with Drake’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and I love having the opportunity to share my experiences with students. I hope that’s enough of a contribution for now!

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