The University Alumni Model

The University Alumni Model

Unbeknownst to many, the extant university model in the United States does not place its financial security in the hands of student tuition costs.

Jerome Hammond, the vice president for university relations, explained that many people confuse the university model in America with the typical retail model, wherein the cost of supporting the enterprise is built into the cost of the product.

'Higher education doesn't work that way,' Hammond said. 'Instead, the product'education'is sold for less than it costs to provide for it.'

With few exceptions, there is no university in the U. S. that charges enough tuition to pay for what is going on at the school.

The exceptions exist in the form of for-profit schools. This model avoids traditional pedagogy and aims for efficiency.

While this model, reminiscent of retail, seems ideal, a study conducted by the Department of Education in 2011 indicated that the student loan default rates are significantly higher within for-profit institutions in higher education.

Furthermore, the industry is often accused of deceptive recruiting practices.

'They are coming under some scrutiny from the government because of their predatory practices,' Hammond said. 'Because they have to pay for it, the pressure on the recruiters changes. They become salespeople.'

Decidedly, then, the for-profit method pales as a functional model for a university when it is compared to the non-profit model that makes up an overwhelming majority of the 4,495 colleges and universities in the United States.

The question becomes, 'how do universities make up for the gap which exists between the cost of producing a quality collegiate experience and what small percent tuition covers?'

Director of Alumni Relations Patti Cawood said that while for public universities, the answer lies in tax revenue, private universities such as Lee do not have that option.

'In private universities there is very little government support outside of the individual support for students through things like grants and federal loan programs,' Cawood said.

Historically, in places such as Europe, higher education was funded by an endowment from a wealthy individual or group.

By and large, this has not been a very feasible option in the U. S., therefore, historically, the idea has been one of entrepreneurship: seeking the support of the public.

It is for this reason that Lee and the majority of other universities in the country court the attention and loyalty of donors.

Here enter the university demographic that students spend the least amount of time considering: alumni.

This neglect, stems from a lack of awareness about how universities operate.

'It's an interesting model that we don't talk about and students don't realize because it feels like: I lay down my tuition, I paid for my education,' Hammond said. 'But the reality is, you are right now benefiting from donors giving money to the university.'

Abby Kouzniaeva, a junior pre-med biology student, confirmed Hammond's statements.

'I think we should express this model more, because I've never really heard anything about it,' Kouzniaeva said. 'I know alumni give, but I didn't recognize the extent of their contribution.'

Cawood referred to this phenomenon as the 'educational lifecycle.' In this cycle, students receive benefits from graduates who they do not know.

Likewise, the donors usually do not know many, if any, of the students they support, but choose to participate in a model, which was equally responsible for their own education.

Besides this idea of 'returning the favor,' another motivator for giving is a sincere belief in the university's vision.

'Donations happen when an alumnus or group of alumni say, 'we value what happens here and we want to make sure that students continue to be able to come here,' Cawood said.

Wade Lombard, a former graduate and donor explained that, for him, donating means perpetuating the type of student that Lee helps to create.

'I believe in what Lee is producing,' Lombard said. 'For me it was an incredibly vital part of my life, so [donating] was never really a question for me.'

But this misconception is not limited to current students. Alumni too are often uninformed about their crucial role in the continuity of a university's vitality.

'As Lee goes forward, if we're going to be competitive, we are definitely going to need alumni,' Hammond said.

Lombard, who is also a member of the Alumni Advisory Board'a group committed to assisting Lee's alumni department in engaging alumni'has his own theory about this rift.

'I think there is a disconnect there for alumni in understanding where their dollars go and how they're affecting the lives of students,' said Lombard.

A few specifics that Hammond mentioned were buildings, programs, cameras in the Communications building, microscopes, the remodeling of Church Street, as well as millions of dollars per year in scholarship.

The Chapel, Communications Building and the Science and Math Complex were 100 percent paid for by donations.

'That's why we have things like Homecoming,' Hammond said. 'We need alumni to keep coming back and remembering 'I remember why I like this place and why they need my support.''

Last year, as a prologue for Homecoming, Lee began alumni appreciation week which is the week leading up to Homecoming weekend. It was started to raise awareness about alumni and what their giving does for Lee.

'I want [students] to know when [they] leave that our alumni over a very important category to us,' Hammond said. 'I want to raise their status and awareness among students.'

Another obstacle in garnering alumni support is the belief that the graduate should wait until they can give a large sum of money for it to matter.

'There's this mentality of 'when I have $100,000, I'll come talk to you,'' Hammond said. 'But the reality is if enough alumni say 'here's twenty-five dollars per year,' that's huge.'

Cawood explained one of the alumni department's latest campaigns, which ask graduates to consider committing $8.34 per month, adds up to one hundred dollars per year.

'If one third of the alumni body did that it would bring in over one million dollars a year for the university,' Cawood said.

Because there are many alumni'particularly young alumni'who are not familiar with this model, they are often confused or annoyed when asked for money.

As a future alumnus, Kouzniaeva spoke strongly about supporting the school by way of educating students on the university model.

'I [will] definitely give money to Lee. I love this school,' Kouzniaeva said. 'But there's less a sense of urgency if you don't fully understand how vital it is to keep things thriving and functioning.'

Hammond and Cawood hope that if the school works hard to explain this model, and in the future students are asked for donations, there will be more of a willingness to help.

Cawood said we need to make sure that students leave with an understanding of what they've done here has been made possible by people who came before.

'That support keeps a university surviving,' Hammond said. 'It keeps them strong, and the more they can get that kind of support from alumni and partners, the stronger they get.'

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