Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hitting Student Debt Head On

Recently released research showing that tuition-related debt is the major barrier to giving back to their alma maters for 8 out of 10 college and university alumni under the age of 35 has generated a lot of discussion in higher education circles in the past week. Jon Hite, the former alumni director at UMass Amherst, says it would be wise for college and university presidents hit this issue head-on at their commencements. He suggests language along these lines:

"First, I want to congratulate you for attending this college. All the evidence suggests you received a great education, had a chance to interact with top-notch faculty, and become friends with other bright and talented people, many of whom you will remain close to and, if you're lucky and work at it, be in love with, for the rest of your lives.

Second, I want to thank you for enriching this institution as much as I believe it has and will continue to enrich you. I hope you will agree that your campus experience allowed you to learn not only from your teachers, but from your friends and yourself and, in turn, to contribute to your friends’ understanding of the world and our understanding of you and your generation. We are a better place because of you.

You paid a steep price for the diploma that you will be awarded today, in effort and expense. You leave here today -- many of you-- in far too much debt, and for that I'm sorry. It’s not the way to start the next chapter in your life but I know you will work your way through it and excel despite it.

My hope for you is that as you go on to do whatever it is that you will do, that you will remember this place. I promise you that we will not forget you, and what you did for us.

Money is fungible. Loyalty is not. We will remain true to our mission, to your younger brothers and sisters, and to your children. We will call on you for your help, for your ideas, your constructive criticism and for your involvement. If we live up to what you expect of us, I am confident that you, when you are able, and for many that will not be until after your loans are paid off, will pay forward the opportunities that 150 years of your fellow alumni made possible for you."

What do you think? Should we go after this issue before students graduate? If colleges and universities continue to clamor for support from indebted alumni, will it come across as insensitive to their struggles and cause them to feel less of an emotional connection? Would it be wiser to provide a range of programs for young alumni, scale way back on the annual fund requests, and work on preserving ties for long run?

Shouldn’t we be at least willing to survey our own alumni and find out how they feel about this issue so that we respond in a considerate and appropriate fashion? Certainly without some reconsideration, some change, we will continue to leave far too many of our alumni behind.

1 comment:

Chris said...

When I worked for a medical school, instead of scholarships we transitioned a number of scholarships to debt forgiveness for meeting certain criteria at graduation. It really worked in building stronger ties to the new graduates.

Chris Mueller
Executive Director, Resource Development
Western Carolina University