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Senior Class Gift Embarrasses the College

Arm Twisting.jpgThe College has made the national press (The Chronicle of Higher Education; Slate, the on-line magazine; the progressive Cap Times; and the Huffington Post) due to the coerciveness of its fundraising efforts among seniors.

A little background: as recently as 2004, only 13% of seniors contributed to the Class Gift. This figure had dropped significantly from the participation levels in the early 1990’s: in 1993, 58% of seniors had donated money to the College.

But the College is not without its resources, and following the Class of 2004’s abysmal showing, the office of Alumni Relations put in place a set of incentives and aggressive practices that raised giving to 58% in 2005, 73% in 2006, 92.5% in 2008, and an almost perfect 99.9% (one holdout) in 2010.

Needless to say, the administration continually trumpets these figures as evidence of student satisfaction with the state of the College. Jim Wright boasted about senior giving to Dartmouth’s assembled class officers in 2006, and he was not shy in explaining the reason for the high level of participation:

And the seniors put their money where their mouth is - 73 percent of them gave to the Dartmouth College Fund senior class gift. No class in this room did as well as seniors as the ’06s. Let us thank them! And let us see which of you, even now, after your graduation, can match them. Dartmouth is in great shape. [Emphasis added]

So what is really going on? Why did participation in the Senior Class Gift more than quadruple between 2004 and 2005, and why has it almost doubled again since then? Was the College in that much better shape after only a year? Obviously not, but that kind of detail never stood in the way of the administration’s incessant self-congratulation.

The real reason for the increased giving has nothing to do with the quality of a Dartmouth education and everything to do with no-holds-barred fundraising, including awards for 100% participation by organizations, barrages of solicitations to students from many different people, and the public naming and shaming of non-contributors. In addition stipends were paid to student fundraisers: of the $10,000 raised by the 2010 seniors, 60 percent was consumed by payments to other students.

As Isaiah Berg wrote on Monday, too many aspects of the College show the administration to be “more preoccupied with image than substance” — which has not escaped the notice of commentators across the country.

Note: Ethan Wang ‘13 has the same story today in a column in The D.

Note: This story could have legs. It seems that the producers of Fox & Friends have been calling 2009’s to learn more about the College’s hard-sell solicitation of donations.

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