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Alumni: We've given enough

Young alumni of the nation's top universities are not particularly interested in opening their checkbooks for their alma mater, according to a new survey.

Interviews with alumni from the nation's top 100 universities, as defined by the U.S. News & World Report rankings, found that eight in 10 young alumni -- those under 35 -- feel they have already given enough in tuition payments and don't see the need for further donations.

Half of the young alumni believe their school doesn't especially need the money. Nearly half say their alma mater hasn't made enough of an effort to "connect with them" apart from asking for money, according to a release.

The survey was released Monday by Engagement Strategies Group, a research and consulting firm based in the District.

Colleges, for their part, have spared no effort in connecting with alumni in the downturn, which sapped the average endowment by nearly one-fifth.

Some of the requests are rather bold.

A brief digression:

Last month, I received an e-mail at work with the subject line, "A Note from the President of Northwestern University." Was it a mass-mailing? I wasn't quite sure. I do actually hear from college presidents on occasion.

The note appeared to have been sent by Northwestern's President, Morton Schapiro. It opened with, "Did you see my recent e-mail?"

On reading this, I feared I that it was a personal note -- and that I had somehow missed an earlier note from the same president.

A couple more sentences in, I realized that it was, in fact, another mass mailing to alumni, from Northwestern's Annual Fund; I attended Northwestern's graduate journalism school.

(To be fair, I should point out that I get more frequent pitches from Wesleyan University, where I attended as an undergraduate, although they don't usually come from the president.)

Anyway, back to the survey:

The findings show "the challenges that many top colleges and universities face in making a credible fundraising case to their young alumni," said Cindy Cox Roman, a co-founder of the consultancy, in the release.

Nearly half of alumni under 35 feel they are "strongly connected" to their college, but the number dips below one-third for alumni over 35.

Half of alumni ages 50 to 64 say they lack a "deep and emotional connection to the school" as a reason for not giving.

This is the firm's first "Mood of Alumni" survey and is based on interviews with a sampling of 700 alumni, conducted in February and March.

Charitable giving to education at all levels dropped 3.6 percent to $40 billion in 2009, according to the annual Giving USA, as reported in June in Inside Higher Ed. According to their report, "Over the last two years, giving to education has dropped by nearly 12 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars," mirroring a broader downward trend in philanthropy.

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By Daniel de Vise  |  July 19, 2010; 11:21 AM ET
 
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Comments

What's more interesting to me is where exactly this money comes from.

For four years I was a fundraiser for my university, a top mid-tier school, and I called alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences, Schools of Business, School of Education, Graduate School, School of Medicine, Law School, and old women's college my university annexed; it was often very surprising which alumni gave the most money.

The group of alumni who pledged the most (both in dollar and pledge amounts) was from the old (relatively small) women's college--alumni who in all regards should not feel a "deep connection" whatsoever to my university because...they did not attend my university.

Those who statistically pledged the least amount of dollars? Lawyers and doctors. In some years, barely 13% of these alumni pledged to give back.

Perhaps this drop really signifies that those who were more inclined to give simply cannot in this economy, not that they don't care. The pledges from (younger alumni of) the College of Arts and Sciences alumni and retired, generous and nostalgic ladies made up the majority of these raised funds, and these are the same groups who find themselves in positions where saving money is crucial to saving the roofs over their heads (i.e., the vastly unemployed young and old).

Also shocking to me: When older alumni insisted that the cost of education today was comparable to what they paid even 20 (but sometimes more than 50) years ago. Perhaps these young alumni are right in their convictions: It is now practically impossible to graduate without being a dollar in debt (which was not the case in the past), and I would dare anyone to find a young graduate who thinks they would be a better person for sacrificing $100 from their savings account to give to an institution to which they have already given ten times that amount. Let's give the youth a break here.

Of course, this is just my opinion, but...

Posted by: Madioteque | July 19, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Students fortunate enough to qualify for gifts who then get jobs are the ones who should be giving back. Those who have to pay full freight saddled with loans should be celebrated not hit up once again for more money. It is usually those students who have received free tuition due to minority status etc that have absolutely no interest in donating a penny of what they reap as a result.

Posted by: SavemeFGS | July 20, 2010 4:18 AM | Report abuse

Students fortunate enough to qualify for gifts who then get jobs are the ones who should be giving back. Those who have to pay full freight saddled with loans should be celebrated not hit up once again for more money. It is usually those students who have received free tuition due to minority status etc that have absolutely no interest in donating a penny of what they reap as a result.

Posted by: SavemeFGS | July 20, 2010 4:18 AM | Report abuse

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