The Higher Education "Crisis" Nobody is Talking About

July 29, 2017

 Did you give back to your college or university last year?


The national average Alumni Participation Rate (APR), or the percentage of higher education alumni who donate to their Alma Mater, has plummeted by more than 50% since 1990.

A school's APR is important because it reflects general alumni satisfaction. More tangibly, it impacts an institution's national rankings: U.S. News & World Report attributes 5% of a school's total ranking to the APR alone.


Clearly, colleges and universities have a major problem on their hands. As a matter of fact, experts are calling it a "crisis." But why is the national APR falling in the first place? 


The answer is simple: millennial alumni simply aren't donating to their Alma Maters.


But hold off on the stereotypical anti-Millennial "sigh" of exasperation (we explain why the case against Millennials is #FakeNews here), because there are more pieces to this puzzle (spoiler alert: Millennials aren't to blame).


Remember the Housing Bubble? Millennial Wallets Sure Do


In the good old days, a college degree was a one-way ticket to solid employment and career advancement. A large percentage of Millennials, however, began their careers in an economy ravaged by the Great Recession.


Even so, Millennials have established themselves as one of the most philanthropic generations, ever. A massive 84% of Millennials made some sort of donation in 2015. 


But why not to their Alma Mater?

The biggest reason is simple: student loans.

Sky-high tuition costs are a relatively new thing, and Millennials entered college just as tuition prices began their record-breaking ascent. As a result, total student loan debt has increased an absurd 1516% to $1.4 trillion since 1997. That's one billion dollars. 1,400 times.


Millennials aren't broke, they just can't justify donating significant amounts to their Alma Mater with significant student loans outstanding. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.


Schools Need Better Tools


While Millennials have a good point, it's important to understand where schools are coming from. 


Colleges and universities understand the financial context of their youngest graduates, and want nothing more than for their alumni to succeed. 


Caroline Steadman, Assistant Director of Class Giving at the University of Richmond, for example, stresses that recent-graduate outreach is all about building healthy alumni relationships, and communicating the notion that "any donation is a great donation."


So what's driving this miscommunication? For starters, colleges and universities rely on the same methods of outreach they've used since the '90's.


These methods are antiquated, and simply don't resonate with tech-savvy Millennials: 


  • Phone calls from a specific area code can be screened 

  • Emails either pile up or are filtered

  • Direct mail...we had to Google what this even was


It's currently easier to send money to a friend for Chipotle (with Guac, obviously) than it is to give back to your Alma Mater.


Yet despite the technology available today, these are the primary channels colleges and universities must use to connect with their alumni. 


Millennials & Higher Education Need to Hug it Out


In conclusion, the "crisis" facing higher education is less of a systemic disconnect, and more of a communication issue.


What if young alumni were encouraged to donate 25 cents every once in a while, instead of $25 once a year? 


And what if colleges and universities used tools specifically-tailored to the way 84% of Millennials already donate?


It's a win-win. Schools would be able to build healthy relationships with their youngest alumni and include them in their APR, while still respecting the financial context of Millennial graduates. 


Millennials, in turn, wouldn't have to deal with outreach channels that might as well be this thing (floppy disks were used as ninja stars back in the day, right?). 


It just so happens that GiveTide offers that solution (Shameless plug? Absolutely. Relevant? Absolutely). We're making it easier to include philanthropy (colleges and universities included) in your life as you live it today


To colleges, universities, and Millennial alumni across the nation: let's all hug it out, because philanthropy should be purely positive, and never a "crisis."





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