July 09, 2007

Report: Students Indebted for College Not Inclined to Give Colleges More Money

THE OBSERVATION ABOVE might seem on par with statements such as "the sun rises in the east" and "it hurts to get hit in the head with a hammer," but apparently it reflects a state of affairs worrying enough that colleges are taking note of it. Why, The Boston Globe has even written an in-depth feature article on this supposedly worrying trend, which has college administrators furrowing their brows and trying to think up new and clever schemes to separate students from their money. But so far, many students remain unmoved, as the Globe reports:

The fund-raising appeals started even before Adam Minsky received his diploma from Boston University six weeks ago. The envelope not so subtly left on his plate at the senior breakfast. The tug on his heartstrings with a request to donate in honor of a favorite professor. E-mails asking the class of 2007 for a token $20.07.

Proud (Boston University) grad that he is, Minsky is immune to the message, thanks to his $40,000 in debt.

"I got a great deal with my financial aid, but I'm still paying tens of thousands of dollars," said the Orlando, Fla., native. "And now they want more money? I think it's just ludicrous."

University fund-raisers are increasingly worried over young graduates like Minsky. They fear that with student debt ballooning today, campus coffers may be suffering tomorrow.

I think we can all agree this would be a horrible development. Think of all the poor academics out there who could find themselves bereft of support from various colleges. Think of all the professors forced out onto the street, offering to write for food hackneyed English theses on mediocre writers whose sole cleverness was reflected in the topics they wrote about. Think of all the administrators who would find themselves without tempests in teapots to manage, without the vicarious thrills of meddling in the petty affairs of their students. There would be despair and anguish and benefit concerts and ... but I digress.

In any event, I can certainly sympathize with Mr Minsky, as his reaction to receiving fund-raising letters was pretty much identical to my own upon graduating from the University of Michigan. As much as I love Michigan, I will almost certainly never donate so much as a red cent to my alma mater, which when it comes to alumni fundraising matters is classless, gauche, wretched and contemptible.

Quite frankly, I think colleges would pay to wait a few years before they started hitting up their former students for money. When I graduated from Michigan, I was acutely aware of how much money it had cost to attend that fine institution, and my attention was focused on other expensive matters -- such as moving out to California, where I had managed to land a job. Yet Michigan's solicitations for money were almost comical in their audacity; why, we were even solicited for money during commencement.

As one might imagine, at first I reacted to these calls and letters with silent scorn, giving each a mental two-word response as I threw them into the wastebasket. Then I started getting passive-aggressive: for instance, on a day when I felt particularly spiteful, I taped a penny onto the response form and mailed it back in. Then I went on the offensive, and started actually publicly writing about these letters and making fun of them.

Yet despite all these things, Michigan has never given up hope that it will someday, somehow extract money from my miserly person. Why, even today I get letters from Michigan asking me to donate. The last one asked me to donate to the school's Chemistry Department, which was a riot since I never took a chemistry course in school. (A follow-up letter said this was a mistake, but I was almost hooked that time -- I always felt sorry for the chem students). Once every few months, they even call me once a day for several days in the hopes they'll get me to donate. (Thank God I have Caller ID -- this lets me answer the phone and hang it up immediately).

As you can see, Michigan's donation system is a bit impersonal and bureaucratic. Perhaps that's par for the course at a school where one of the first things incoming freshmen are taught is, "If you see a line, go stand in it." But I can't for the life of me see giving money -- even restricted money -- to an institution that will, in my mind, find a way to spend it as if it was water. I'd rather give money to deserving students in my chronically recessional hometown, where there is no work and things seem pretty tough. (As it happens, there's a great program that already does this). Heck, compared to a university, there are a LOT of places where donations go farther and make real differences in people's lives.

I fully admit I think my perspective would be different if I had received assistance from Michigan to attend, and that aid had made a marked difference in my later financial situation. Instead, as a commenter at Boston Gal's Open Wallet put it, I look at my schooling as a business transaction -- nothing more and nothing less. So, as far as I'm concerned, Michigan and me are even.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at July 9, 2007 05:23 PM | TrackBack
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