Colleges See Prospective Donors Among New Students

Filed under: In The News, Education: Teens

University of Michigan

University of Michigan senior D.J. Heebner, left, leads a prospective student tour on campus in Ann Arbor, Mich. Prospective Wolverines learn about the importance of private contributions while touring the campus. Credit: Paul Sancya, AP

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - The drill for new college students remains pretty consistent: grab a campus map, buy some overpriced textbooks, save those quarters for laundry and don't forget to call home.

On a growing number of campuses, first-year students are hearing another message. Please give. Not for tuition, but instead as a young donor.

With alumni-giving rates at record lows and lagging state support of postsecondary education, public and private schools alike are focusing their efforts on building lifetime loyalty among still-impressionable students.

Some schools start small. Fundraisers at Emory University in Atlanta pass out piggy banks for freshmen to collect spare change. Texas Christian and California University of Pennsylvania ask for $1 donations at their new student convocations.

Other schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, have created more elaborate efforts, with four-year programs designed to teach students the value of philanthropy as a civic virtue as well as the nuances of higher education funding.

"We are unapologetically laying out expectations for their relationship with Penn," said Elise Betz, executive director of alumni relations. "Before our students enter a classroom, they are given this message."

In the Penn Traditions program, school trustees and donors visit dorms to share their perspective on financing an Ivy League education. Trivia night contests focus on school history and traditions, not just sports or pop culture arcana.

By the second semester of their freshmen year, students can tap an alumni database for job leads or networking contacts. But the first 'ask' - donor-speak for a request for money - doesn't take place until senior year.

"It really isn't just about giving," Betz said. "It's about staying connected."

The program seems to be paying off. Participation in Penn's senior gift drive increased from 18 percent in 2001 to 70 percent in 2009 - a figure nearly double the school's alumni-giving rate.

The University of Michigan doesn't wait until freshmen orientation to discuss student philanthropy. Instead, prospective Wolverines learn about the importance of private contributions while touring the Ann Arbor campus.

Students at public colleges and universities - and their parents - often mistakenly assume that tax dollars cover the bulk of their education, said Judy Malcolm, director of development communications and donor relations.

Instead, state support of the school's core academic functions hovers near 20 percent - nearly one-fourth the level of support provided by Michigan to its flagship university 50 years ago.

"At privates, from the moment the student sets foot on campus, giving to the university is an expectation," Malcolm said. "Here, they mistakenly think the state is paying for their entire education."

Angelo Armenti Jr., president of California University of Pennsylvania, calls his school's focus on current students as future donors a "survival strategy." State support at the 158-year-old school in western Pennsylvania now accounts for just one-third of its budget, half the funding levels of 25 years ago.

Alumni who graduated during more flush times don't always understand the necessity of private support, Armenti said.

"Most of them graduated at a time when the state paid all the bills," he said. "How do you convince these people that they have to step up and contribute like private university graduates? Educating our students before they become alumni is much more effective and efficient."

The tough economic times have hit campus development offices particularly hard. A Council for Aid to Education survey of charitable contributions to U.S. colleges and universities showed a decline in private giving of nearly 12 percent in 2009, the steepest drop in the survey's 53-year history. The alumni participation rate of 10 percent was also a record low.

On some campuses, asking students for donations outright is secondary to educating them about the role of private philanthropy in higher education.

That's the case at the University of Missouri, where the private Mizzou Student Foundation invites scholarship recipients to a "Grateful Tiger" day where they write thank-you notes and holiday greeting cards to their benefactors. In another program known as TAG Day - an abbreviation for "Thanking Alumni and friends for their Generosity" - classrooms and buildings that have benefited from donor money are "tagged" with such designations to increase awareness. Faculty members with endowed chairs and student scholarship recipients also wear the tags.

Allyson Lindsey, a 2007 Michigan graduate, learned about the importance of alumni donations on her campus while working as a student fundraiser in the school's telethon office.

The Detroit native returned home after graduation to work as a neonatal researcher at Wayne State University. It took her six months to find a job, but she quickly donated $25 to her alma mater - despite still owing more than $20,000 in unpaid student loans.

"I was really inspired to give back," she said. "I can't give thousands of dollars yet, but they still appreciated my $25. That really resonated with me."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL. This article was written by ALAN SCHER ZAGIER, Associated Press Writer.

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