“Proudly we shall ever hail thee, over all the land.” Translation: after we graduate, we will continue to send money to our alma mater. It doesn’t mean paying off student loans will last forever, but rather some inherent pride of having been here will pull our wallets out and open them whenever donations are solicited. Building up the endowment is as central to Miami University’s mission as the research it funds (currently, our endowment stands near $376 million, while most top public schools top $500 million, some significantly). Does this indicate that Miami alumni are, historically, not very generous?
Naturally, your undergraduate experience with alumni shapes what you envision the future of your relationship with Miami will be. For me, it looks like this: every five years I will be invited back for a weekend in the summer, but since I am not likely to be a Miami Merger, my odds of going are significantly hampered. When I come to watch the homecoming football game, win or lose, I will probably leave at half-time. Were I in Greek life, the homecoming visit would also include drinking with the current guys (they would want my money, too). I will refuse to donate money until the university changes its mascot name back to the “Redskins,” even though the real reason I will not give is apathy. If I am hiring at a company, I will place any Miami graduate’s application on the top. Lastly, I will encourage my kids to add Miami to the list when they are college-searching high school juniors. I think that would make me a typical alumnus.
While I believe the above portrait provides a fair take on alumni, many of whom were once indifferent students, I also hope it doesn’t come to pass. For the first five years we are simply not in a position to make significant financial contributions and, after those five years, not giving becomes ingrained. All of us would happily give if we had the money; just ask the person next to you what they would want to support – they will have an answer. Already we are being recruited to join the Alumni Association and, more importantly, to contribute financially to a senior gift (why are these e-mails not captured by my spam filter?). I propose the Alumni Association reduce the price of membership for the first five years after graduation, rather than one year, in a manner similar to something being done at Carleton College. Launch a campaign for every new graduate to give $20.10 annually (next year, ask for $20.11, etc). It isn’t a significant sum, as 3,500 multiplied by $20.10 totals only $70,000, or 57 percent of either Dawisha’s salary, but it is a meaningful sum. The total isn’t as important as the hope the micro-tithe will regularize giving into the future.
If the university really wants us to be part of the Miami family after we leave, that previous recommendation alone is insufficient. As the babies of the family, we are by and large unaware of the alumni base. In the past year, the only Miami alumni I have talked to are my friends who graduated last year. I think that is typical. Miami needs to devise more strategies to create dialogue between current students and alumni. My sister, who is studying interior design at the University of Minnesota, was given an alumnus mentor to discuss what she’s learning in class, what opportunities are available to her as an undergrad. The mentor program is great for my sister, but the university also reaps a benefit. The mentor now has a reason to maintain interest in the university’s welfare, making donations more likely and when my sister graduates she will be more inclined to continue her relationship with the university. And she doesn’t even like sports, for those of you who think football success is actually key to bringing in huge sums of alumni support.
The university is strengthened by alumni donations, which compared to other institutions are poor. A strategy to win over this year’s graduates should be a priority. And while additional revenue is tantalizing, the nobler goal is making that phrase “Miami family” consequential, which requires bonding alumni to current students.