The Value in Supporting a College

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This past week the headlines and news reports were replete with stories about the record levels of fund raising for colleges and universities in 2011. According to the Council for Aid to Education, over $30 billion dollars were donated to American colleges and universities. The reports were quick to note, however, that 86% of this money was donated to fewer than 25% of the institutions. Stanford led the way with over $700 million followed by Harvard, Yale and MIT which each raised over $500 million.

Each year when this report is released, it is quickly followed by commentary criticizing these large institutions with huge endowments that seem to raise more and more money every year. Many in the public believe that these institutions already have too much money and hardly need to grow their endowments further. Whether that is true or not is really a matter of opinion and not of particular interest to me.

I am more interested in helping people understand that the vast majority of colleges and universities are not like these large and well-endowed institutions, and they need financial support to not only grow, but also to sustain their programs and educational efforts. I sometimes wonder if people really understand that most annual fund raising generates dollars needed for day to day operations.

Colleges like Anna Maria count on annual donations to support essential resources for students. First and foremost, these contributions support scholarships and financial aid.  We hear a great deal about the challenges facing students in terms of access and affordability. President Obama has been speaking about the need to control the rising costs of tuition.

I find this rhetoric fascinating because a significant aspect of the affordability challenge is a result of the stagnation in federal and state support for students attending college. For example, the MassGrant and Gilbert Grant programs in Massachusetts have remained relatively level funded for the past several years. However, the number of eligible students for these need-based programs has increased by over 70%. On the federal level, Stafford and Pell Grants have remained relatively constant with little or no growth.

Colleges do their best to provide financial support for students in need. Every year, the financial aid dollars are increased to try to address the access and affordability challenges. And these college-based programs rely on the donations of alumni/ae, friends and benefactors.

Annual donations are also used to support educational and co-curricular programs. Portions of the annual fund are dedicated to academic programs, faculty development, the library and technology … all critical to providing a quality educational experience. Funds are also used to support student activities, campus ministry, service programs and athletic programs. These provide students with the holistic educational experience they value.

Some colleges raise money to grow their endowments and to construct new buildings. These may be worthwhile endeavors. But more colleges raise money to support the educational mission of the college and to assist students in their fundamental ability to receive a college education. And this is essential.

So when you are thinking about your philanthropic interests, think about the diversity of institutions and the importance of your donation. Every dollar counts at Anna Maria College. And for your generosity and support, on behalf of our students, I thank you!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Wednesday, 16 April 2014