It may hurt to hear this if, like me, you look back fondly at dear alma mater, but it’s true. If you just pony up when the alumni fund asks or -- if you can write checks with lots of zeroes -- you hand a college president a whopping sum, you’re probably doing more harm than good.
Most of the nation’s largest donations in any given year go to colleges -- see the Institute for Jewish and Community Research report on "Mega-gifts in American Philanthropy" -- yet colleges have several problems donors overlook. First, those large gifts typically go to schools whose endowments are larger than the GDPs of entire nations. Second, colleges have a track record of soaring tuition rates that make the health care sector look miserly. (See Richard Vedder’s invaluable Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs Too Much and visit his blog at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.) Third, the academic rigor of colleges, even the most prestigious, is not impressive and only heading lower. I’ve had summer interns from Harvard I wouldn’t trust to spell-check a paragraph, and the proportion of college students who require remedial courses is scandalous.
An even bigger scandal is the way students, who arrive with little knowledge of how America was founded and is designed to function, often leave college years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later still more ignorant of what we used to call high school civics. (See the studies by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s American Civic Literacy Program and by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.)
But worst of all, if you just hand over money to your college’s fundraisers, you have little idea what they will do with it. Even if they’ve made vague promises to you, they’re unlikely to keep them. For instance, Martin Morse Wooster once surveyed the nation’s professors who held endowed chairs whose very names indicated that the donors established the chairs to boost free enterprise. Wooster found that the majority of these chairs supported the posteriors of profs with contempt for free enterprise. Then there’s Princeton’s ugly dealings with the Robertson family, whose decades of support for the university’s Woodrow Wilson School amounted to nearly a billion dollars. Princeton long prevaricated and finally told the Robertsons it would spend their money however it liked, past promises be damned. (After years of lawsuits, the family received some justice, including $40 million for the legal fees required to extract justice from a prestigious college.)
If you’re a conservative, you’re in extra danger of not having your donation support what you want, thanks to the harsh leftist atmosphere of academe. But help is on the way: National Review, the conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, has just launched Collegiate Giving Clubs to pool conservatives’ money and carefully support only what is best on campus.
The clubs will be overseen by Frederic Fransen, who heads the Center for Excellence in Higher Education and also contributes to this blog. It's appropriate, he notes, for NR to establish the clubs, since Buckley’s own career was launched with his first book, God and Man at Yale, which warned alumni just how badly their money was being used by alma mater. Fransen says the clubs will offer two kinds of help. First, donors will receive
experienced, knowledgeable, and professional assistance in identifying and developing projects they can enthusiastically support at their alma maters. Second, by allowing donors to pool their funds, we can help them leverage their gifts for greater impact.
For more information on this effort, put down that checkbook and visit www.NRGivingClubs.org.