Uh oh. We’re delving into a controversial subject matter. But our regular readers know controversial subject matters are never ones we shy away from. There’s an interesting piece in “The Yale Daily News,” the newspaper of Yale University, about alumni donations that we figured we’d discuss. The piece, written by Jon Victor, focuses on how alumni participation rates have hit an all-time low. But before Yale alumni start freaking out, it’s important to note that this trend is not unique to Yale — it’s true at most highly selective colleges. Relax.
We’ll use Jon’s words to describe a possible cause for the trend: “Today, Yale’s young alumni are more diverse than ever before, but from the point of view of the Office of Development, potentially also less engaged than ever before.” But Jon is walking on a tightrope there with that sentence because what he dared not say on the pages of “The Yale Daily News” — but what we at Ivy Coach can say because political correctness neither suits us nor helps our students earn admission to their dream colleges — is that, generally, as the diversity of the student body increases, alumni giving decreases.
And the rationale is a simple one. Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, as an example, many highly selective colleges were old boys clubs. Dartmouth, for instance, didn’t even go co-ed until the mid-1970’s. Students very often came from privileged backgrounds. They tended, overwhelmingly, to be Caucasian. Many attended elite boarding schools like Exeter, Andover, you name it. They came from families that had a lot of money. Many were legacies of the institutions they attended. And so, naturally, their families gave a lot of money.
Diversity is a wonderful thing for America’s elite universities. It is our hope that universities will continue to become more and more diverse. But that doesn’t change the fact that the major donors to this day tend overwhelmingly to be from that same network of donors from decades past, from the same families. It’s why legacies still have an advantage in highly selective college admissions — because these are the children of the major donors, the offspring of the folks who loyally contribute to the college’s endowment.
We fully expect that this trend will cease to be a trend in the years ahead. Many of the wonderfully diverse graduates of America’s most selective institutions just need some time to amass fortunes before they become major donors to their alma maters. It’s that simple.
In time, we suspect this trend will no longer be the case and that’s because the diverse group of students who have attended these institutions in recent years will become successful. They will want their children to attend their alma maters. And they will thus donate to their schools. It’s just that they’ve got some catching up to do. The old boys clubs started amassing their fortunes when the Mayflower came to America. It’ll take time to catch up. But it’ll happen.