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Giving should be about investing in society’s future, not earning a naming right

What does it mean to give? What does it mean to provide opportunity and access? Throughout the history of higher education, there have been philanthropists. From Rockefeller to George Soros, there are quite a few people who gave big in the history of this nation. The discussion among higher education supporters and economists has been that the structure of funding is imbalanced and to the detriment of the future of the U.S.  

With all the giving that goes on with respect to institutions, I hope that we can elevate the conversation to what is necessary: access. There is such a disparity of access to higher education and the gap keeps increasing. The future innovators, from social scientists to technology developers, will never make it to college simply because they can’t afford it. What is the point of going to middle schools and high schools and telling young people to prepare for college when there are not enough funds to support them going to attend a university?  

According to the numbers from the Harvard student paper, The Crimson, in 2008, if Harvard had allocated 6 percent of its $34.6 billion endowment toward tuition, all Harvard undergraduate and graduate students could attend for free and the university would still have $1.3 billion left over in that small percentage of giving. Maybe Harvard could start a new trend and have their donors contribute toward tuition as well as the other necessary causes by matching tuition dollars of their own with donors.

According to the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, there are more than a dozen schools with endowments more than $1 billion. Perhaps Yale and Emory and their sister institutions could become the leaders in the reform of higher education and access by entrusting their money over to the future: the students.

That fact alone makes me sad. We are repeatedly saying that education at the collegiate level is for the elite when people who are without cannot attend. The conversation of why the U.S. is being left behind in science and mathematics makes sense when those who might have the aptitude cannot make it to college because of finances. So who is coming to college? Many universities are recruiting the best and brightest from other nations. I welcome the diversity, but what are we doing to foster excellence in U.S. citizens?

The folks who can afford the tuition hikes and expensive residence halls across the country do not include the working poor class or those below the poverty line. That means that for-profit companies are doing more to help the poor than institutions of higher education when it comes to spending actual dollars.  

There is a lot of theory going on at colleges but not much praxis. In other words, we talk about the poor but rarely do anything about it. I think donations and philanthropic endeavors are important and necessary. Those donations are dangerous if they are not attending to the pressing issues of access and opportunities. There are so many people in the U.S. who cannot afford food, let alone prepare to go to college. In fact, according to the Carsey Institute, there are more than 100,000 children in rural Ohio who live in poverty.  

In the conversation to address poverty, there has to be a parallel conversation to address what is happening in the Ivory Towers in our great nation. I petition to current and future donors, look not only at the potential to have your name on a building but your gesture to be invested in the future of our country, the people.  


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