Every year, “U.S. News & World Report” releases its annual college rankings and sends college admissions offices and obsessive applicants into a frenzy. Combine this with colleges scratching and clawing for any sliver of recognition on the national stage and soon “Most Connected” banners are everywhere.
Usually I believe that such rankings are nothing more than high-brow chest-thumping. But one statistic worth looking at, concerns Temple: alumni donations.
Of Temple alumni, only 10 percent contribute to the university. Compare this to Penn State (21 percent), Rutgers (16 percent), Maryland (14 percent) and Delaware (26 percent). Our 10 percent looks downright pitiful.
The real dilemma is what makes alumni so apathetic to the future of the university. Maybe it’s because they figured their tuition was enough, which is hard to argue.
Yet there must be a reason why 21 percent of Penn State graduates financially support their alma mater. It might be linked to the sentiment that Temple lacks community involvement, where Penn State doesn’t.
Stuart Sullivan, vice president of Development and Alumni Affairs, said he believes that when compared to other urban public research colleges such as the University of Pittsburgh, Temple is “right in the middle of the pack.”
“Pitt and Temple became state-supported at the same time, but Pitt has a $1.5 billion endowment compared to $200 million for Temple,” he said.
Temple is inherently set up so that students will not be invested in its future. There is little undergraduate housing, forcing a horde of upperclassmen to fend for themselves. Sure, the students may be a little more independent because of the housing situation, but they certainly aren’t going to give the university a hug for it. Lack of housing contributes to a mass exodus after the day’s classes are over and gives students little reason to feel invested in Temple beyond their academic lives.
Sullivan admits that alumni donations “really [come] down to how many students live on campus when it comes to inner-city schools.”
Another cornerstone of a college community is successful athletic teams in the high profile sports, which are men’s basketball and football. Penn State football is a perennial contender, Maryland basketball is no slouch and Delaware is typically a I-AA championship contender. Temple basketball has found success, and we all know the story of our football team. Perhaps if Temple returns to the NCAA Tournament and the “Golden Era” of Temple football comes to fruition, Temple may be in the minds of alumni.
The fact that Temple is an urban school may contribute as well. Students may feel more invested in the city of Philadelphia rather than the brand and institution of Temple.
Especially considering that 78 percent of undergraduates are from Pennsylvania, students may feel that going to Temple is as much about the city as it is the institution.
But Temple has made considerable progress in the last few years, jumping from a 9.5 percent alumni donation rate five years ago, to today’s 14 percent.
“The whole program has been completely revamped in terms of direct mail, and [the] number of gifts made online has gone up a couple hundred percent,” Sullivan said. The current students have to decide whether or not they owe Temple a piece of their future salaries. They will if they feel emotionally attached to the university. Judging by the current state of things, it doesn’t look hopeful.
Temple needs to foster the community that makes alumni donations commonplace if the college expects to continue in its growth. But this is not a one-way street.
Hopefully, our generation will feel invested in Temple enough to improve the alumni donation rate. It’d be nice to see that on a banner someday.
Sean Blanda can be reached at email@example.com.