Wednesday, October 1, 2014

University Alumni are Not Just ATMs

Several years ago I was contacted by someone in the development office at my undergraduate alma mater. She wanted to meet with me during her visit to the San Francisco. I responded that I would be happy to meet so long as she was clear that I did not intend to donate money to the school. She understood and  agreed to meet.

We met and had a lovely conversation about the school. The following day, I received an email from someone in her office asking me for a financial contribution.

This behavior epitomizes an attitude that pervades much of higher education as I have experienced it--that the primary (and in some cases, sole) purpose of alumni is to donate money. 

Conversely, I've rarely been sought out for what I can contribute as a working professional with varied experiences.  That might involve speaking with students or recent graduates about job and career issues. I have taken the initiative to do so over the years with two of the three institutions I have attended, with follow through sorely lacking on their end. And there's been very little effort to explain to me why it's worth my time and energy to stay involved with any of the three schools. In other words, what's in it for me as an alumnus? 

Yet when it comes to fundraising it's a far different story, with considerable effort exerted to raise money throughout the year.  As someone who has worked in higher education for more than 15 years, I totally understand this emphasis. Non-tuition based revenue is ever more important for higher educational institutions to thrive, much less continue to exist in some cases.  New buildings, endowed professorships, and the like require funds and lots of them to become reality. 

The greater value, nonetheless, seems to me to lie in non-monetary benefits alumni like me deliver--relationships, career support, and insight.  So dear alma maters, I urge you to recognize me and other alumni as accomplished  individuals with unique experiences, perspectives, and networks to share with students, fellow alumni, and the institution as a whole--and not simply as ATMs that will spit out cash when prompted to do so. 

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