In the relentless rhetoric about whether or not a college degree is worth it, one of the voices that is frequently absent is that of the students themselves. In a 2011 College Board survey, 86% of 2010 high school graduates expressed that one year after graduation, they believed college was worth it. Similarly, a recent U.S. News report on an American Society for Quality (ASQ) survey that found that overwhelmingly, engineers felt that earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree was worth it in spite of the challenges, with only 3% expressing dissatisfaction (20 February, 2012). In fact, an American Council on Education poll of young college alumni found that 89% felt that college was worth it, 85% believed that college prepared them well for the work force, and 80% said they would return to the same institution they graduated from if they were given a chance to do it all over again (13 December, 2010).
Given that such a high percentage of students during and after their postsecondary experience deem it a valuable experience and the overall silence of their voices, the goal of this post is to call upon alumni to get involved in the fight to save higher education.
How can you help? Here are some suggestions to get you started.
One of the easiest and most effective ways alumni can help higher education is to speak up. Share the positive experience you had during your time at your alma mater and how your postsecondary education helped you personally and professionally. As Guy Heston, president of the California State University Alumni Association pointed out, the CSU system has 2.6 million graduates who could potentially be advocates for the school (19 March, 2012). He suggests speaking out about how CSU graduates, primarily in the fields of business, agriculture, hospitality and tourism, civil engineering, nursing, journalism, digital communications, and dietetics and nutrition, could talk about the positive effect they have on the state’s economy (19 March, 2012). Alumni can also share specific stories about how their “lives have been enriched by [their]degrees, and the wonderful, life-long memories of college life” (Heston, G., 19 March, 2012).
In the midst of political and media scrutiny of higher education, be willing to speak up for your alma mater and higher education in general. It’s easy to let negative statements or potentially damaging actions go by without a response, but our postsecondary schools need community support just like K12 schools and other causes do. The Indiana University Alumni Association provides an excellent example of the ways you can get involved (2012). Because “your voice can make a difference,” the group has formed Hoosiers for Higher Education, a movement with a goal to“ensur[e] that public officials hear directly from [alumni] about the real impact their decisions have on Indiana University and its students” (2012). More concretely, the group suggests that members:
• Attend public forums and Town Hall meetings
• Stay informed about legislative proceedings
• Contact legislators in person and by phone, letter, and e-mail
• Host elected officials on visits to IU campuses
• Participate in HHE-sponsored events around the state
• Register to vote and learn where candidates stand on issues affecting IU and higher education
Certainly alumni can get involved in similar groups or even start one if none exists.
I know that appeals for financial support at a difficult economic time turn people off. However, the fact is that running any organization costs money, and colleges need this form of support, too. Most graduates have probably received financial appeals from their schools, and most of us probably can not afford to donate a new building or lab equipment. However, having worked as a grant writing consultant at several universities, I can tell you that it’s true: Every penny helps. If each CSU alumnus/a donated one dollar, that’s $2.6 million that would be raised to support higher education. A lot can be accomplished with that money, especially if a portion of it is invested.
Additionally, I would suggest earmarking your donation for a specific purpose if you are worried about how your donation will be used or offering a gift as a matching fund up to a certain amount. The University of Virginia’s alumni association offered matching amounts that helped the school raise about $780,000 for its summer renovations, for instance (5 June, 2012), allowing the school to begin this large project.
Donating is not just about money, however. There are in-kind gifts and projects that may benefit from your time, talents, and energy. Some schools, such as Burlington College, make this very easy with an online form you can complete. Some other possibilities would be to consider what you could offer a future or current student. Do you own a business that could offer an internship to a student? Could you take part in a workshop about your career field?
What about attending a college fair at a high school to share your experience with prospective students?
Vadim Lavrusik’s “10 Ways Universities Are Engaging Alumni Using Social Media,” includes some excellent examples of how you as an alumnus/a could get involved with helping your school, future or current alumni, and higher education using social media, without even leaving home (23 July, 2009). My favorite suggestion is networking to help alumni find jobs (Lavrusik, V., 23 July, 2009).
You can find nearly endless creative examples of how alumni are giving back by looking at alumni association newsletters, such as this one from LaSalle University’s Communication Department (June 2011). Let these examples inspire you to come up with a new idea to meet a need at your school or to advocate for and help higher education in general.
Overall, times are tough and alumni sometimes resent being asked to give back. I think many of us have set aside or completely ignored appeals to assist our alma maters or to speak out on behalf of higher education. However, we must keep in mind that higher education gives back far more to our society than it takes or that most people consider. Each dollar you donate or time you speak out on behalf of higher education supports more than just a school, it also supports other quiet blessings such as research that may find cures for diseases.
How will you get involved? Share your comments and suggestions below.
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