As a senior at Fort Valley State University, I have recently held conversations with my peers about what they planned to do as alumni and learned that many don’t intend on giving back to our school upon graduation for various reasons. I didn’t agree with their stance but I decided to research into the issue and realized that these sentiments aren’t just from Fort Valley students. The same philosophies are heralded by students at HBCUs nationwide. In a study on alumni giving at HBCUs by US News, it was reported that only 11.7% of alumni give back. (Click to read more) While there were highs at institutions such as Claflin University, 47.7%, there were also lows such as Albany State University, 2.6%. My future alma mater, Fort Valley State was slightly above the curve at 17.9%. Alumni giving is an avenue to increase funding for HBCUs and all our institutions could use more money. When you reflect on the financial issues HBCUs have had past and present (such as Bennett College), you should quickly realize that we must continue to find solutions to increase giving in order to sustain our institutions far into the future. In an effort to combat the sentiments that ultimately lead to dismal levels of alumni giving at Fort Valley State University and other HBCUs, I decided to make a few concise points to offer an alternate perspective on why you should give back to your institution no matter your circumstances.
Reason #1: For whatever reason may be the college you attended became your #1 option
As someone who never planned to attend a Historically Black College and University, and certainly not Fort Valley State University, I find it ironic that I am writing this plea to my peers, future alumni and alumni. My dreams of attending a big public research institution were crashed when I received my financial aid packet from these schools. If I wanted to attend college without going six feet deep in debt I would have to attend a rural HBCU 30 minutes away from home. While I would reluctantly agree to attend, Fort Valley gave me the opportunity to receive free education and as such my return on investment is exponentially higher than it would be if I had gone elsewhere. While my reason may have been financial, yours may have been academic. No matter the reason, you chose or transferred to your the institution because you felt it was your best option at the time. You came to utilize the University’s resources to alter the trajectory of your life and should give that same opportunity to future generations.
Reason #2: They allowed you the opportunity to grow
Whatever institution you attend you are afforded the opportunity to grow professionally, personally, and financially. Fort Valley gave me the opportunity to do what I saw fit was best for me and my growth. Your institution allows you the opportunity to pursue new endeavors, meet like-minded individuals, change your major, grow your business, fail, and everything in between with little recourse. No matter how much you believe your institution and peers “poured” into you, I guarantee you directly benefited from at least one aspect of attending your institution. Whether it was a realization of how to effectively market your business to college students or realizing you had a passion for teaching and not medicine after your first chemistry class. It is undeniable that you would not be in the exact place you are now without the help of your institution, for better or worse. The University poured into you and so regardless of the feelings you may have toward the University now it is important you repay your way for those coming behind you.
Reason #3: Pay it Forward
I have always been a firm believer in good things happen to good people. I believe the simple act of giving can lead to a happier and healthier life. Regardless of how you feel about your institution, there are going to be people behind you who have negative outlooks about certain aspects of the school. You have the power to change the perspectives of the future scholars who may possess those feelings of animosity you may have had towards your institution through generosity. At any given school there is going to a percentage of the population that believes that the school or student body didn’t support them. This is a fair complaint but in many cases it is just a perspective issue. Nonetheless, there will always be students who feel your school supports your vision and your ambitions, and alumni who graduate with this feeling are likely not give back. A suggestion for alumni who feel this way is to become active in their alumni association and express their perspective to better their University. We must break the stigma that giving back has to be a monetary donation. You should strive to make the world a better place for those who come behind you much like your predecessors did for you.
Reason #4: We’re all in this together
And I’m not talking about the High School Musical song. Regardless of your feelings about your institution, your education is something that cannot be taken away from you. As such, your degree will always say Fort Valley State University (or whatever institution you attend) and employers will always link you to your school regardless of your personal feelings toward your institution. Your contributions can increase the reputation and talent coming into your institution which in turn will make the world and your university a better place. Therefore an investment in your alma mater is also an investment in yourself and your professional development because as your university flourishes so will the value of your degree.
Furthermore, as an alumnus (or alumna) you will become apart of an alumni network that hinges on the quality of your institution’s future graduates that join the network. The future generations that will inevitably join this network has the potential to further enhance your professional and personal career. Thus, the goal should be to make this alumni network as strong as possible so it is pertinent that you help increase the quality of graduates from your alma mater as you navigate as a professional.
Reason #5: Responsibility
“To whom much is given much is expected.”
As a person of color, graduating from an HBCU has significantly alter your life trajectory. Your institution played a role in your success regardless of how you much credit you want to give them. Also, while you may not be able to financially contribute to your alma mater, there are multiple ways to give back. Your responsibility to give back is not absolved because of your finances. I can guarantee you that there is a student at your alma mater that could use mentoring or a department on campus that would love for you to volunteer some of your time. We have to erase the stigma that giving back is only financial and encourage alumni to also give back their most valuable asset, time.
All in all, Alumni giving is mutually beneficial for the donor and benefactors. HBCUs across America suffer from problems such as cuts to public funding, deteriorating infrastructures, rising pension costs, and rising competition from PWIs seeking to diversify. HBCUs have also historically had to fight an uphill battle to gain the trust of non-alumni donors because it wasn’t long ago where a majority of non-alumni donors did not trust African Americans to be fiscally responsible with their money. This is one explanation on why HBCUs have typically not seen the large donations from philanthropic organizations that PWIs have seen over the years. Each HBCU graduate knows firsthand the difficulties our institutions face and while a lot of the issues are out of our control, alumni giving is directly in our hands. We must rise up and be responsible for the cultivation of institutions because of the role it has played in our lives. It’s not about being financially wealthy but wealthy in compassion. If we don’t take care of our institutions, why should we expect others to?