Monday, June 26, 2006

Are students more valuable than alums?

This past weekend Boyfriend and I visited Cleveland to catch a ball game, see some friends, and sleep on uncomfortable dorm beds. No, really! CWRU has a summer housing program where you can stay in the nice new apartment-style dorms as a guest. I thought this would be great since it was $40 a night and we'd get to have a kitchen and free internet. Unfortunately, it ended up being $115 instead of $80 because they charged me $15 to activate my temporary ID (no, that isn't a deposit) and $20 for linens (no, I didn't get to keep them.) Which is a ripoff, really. We also tried to park in the brand-new garage, where our temp ID wouldn't open the gate, and when I called the next morning to tell them it wouldn't work, the nice young lady at the desk cheerfully told me that it would be $50 to park. And on Sunday morning when we went to check out at 9:55 (checking out consists of leaving your temp card with them and telling them your name) the girl at the desk told me, "You know, it's not even ten o'clock yet." The other girl in the office, who was the one who checked us in and was very nice, looked mortified.

I'm feeling a bit crotchety over all this. I worked at Housing in my undergraduate years during a summer (when we charged $25 a night, no hidden fees and free parking), and our protocol for checking people out was to take their cards and say thank you, and then continue on with our business. Now I am beginning to think that I should have asked the girl if she wished for me to call the on-call person to come check me out five minutes before the office opened, since it clearly wasn't her job for the next five minutes to take my card from me. I am still quite grumpy.

It just makes me feel like I was treated a lot better when I was a student than when I was an alum. Now I feel like the university views me as a walking cash machine from which it can extract money by bombarding me with fliers and emails and glossy fold-overs. (The best is when they email me about these special package deal vacations which are about 2x the cost of booking through a normal travel agency - presumably so we can spend our vacation in the company of smart people who graduated from our school 20 years before us.) Boyfriend commented that all of these dorm fees are just another way to get money from us to pay for the new dorms, since we've graduated and they can't raise our tuition to get it. Donations to the alumni associations are in general extremely low, partially because CWRU recently decided to "rebrand" itself as Case. For those unfamiliar with the university (which would be everyone, given the blank stares I frequently receive) it was formed by joining Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University back in the early 70s. There are still quite a lot of alumni whose diplomas say Western Reserve, who are in their prime earning (and donating, and will-writing) years. Guess who is pissed off and not donating any more money to the institution that wiped their school off the planet? I recently wrote about the travesties that were done to the liberal arts departments while I was a student there. Pretty soon a liberal arts degree from CWRU won't hold any prestige and the departments will produce nothing but half-baked literati with a bunch of 100 level classes under their belt. Do I feel warm and fuzzy and want to give lots of money to my university? Oh no. Boyfriend was half liberal arts, half hard science, and he is similarly unsympathetic to the university's cries for donations. (Although I seem to get the lion's share of emails and junk mail about it; they mail me something about once a month.)

Their actions are a perfect example of how a university can foul up their revenue for years by alienating their alumni. Students are used to the daily bureaucratic challenges, and don't take it personally, but alumni are likely to stop donating for years if they feel slighted. I wonder who is the greater source of revenue - students or alumni? Students probably bring in more dollars on a straight basis, but alumni are free. You're always making more of them. Undergraduates cost a lot of money, and I doubt they're making a huge profit on them. (Which is why I think my university jacked up the room and board rate.) Alumni are also more sensitive to perceived mismanagement of money - as a student, I believed that my tuition paid for my profs, and the student activity groups, and such things that were beneficial directly to me, but alumni donations go into some vast pool and you can never be sure where your money actually went.

The university also isn't doing any favors by raising tuition rates. Boyfriend and I both have the belief that the university took plenty of money from us over the years through insufficient aid packages, and that our "donations" during our time there were plenty. Aid is even worse now, and I really feel for those students who came to CWRU with higher expectations (and lower budgets.)

Obviously you can tell I feel a wee bit shafted. But I wonder if I am a special case, or maybe this is post-graduation student-debt blues. Does your university hound you for money? Have you ever donated?


shamedsteven said...

I have not ever donated to the school that I went to, but I think that I likely will in the future. My college was pretty small, and so each department felt like a family.

So, I'm not quite as aggravated that they ask for money, because it's usually just the department asking. If the school itself ever did, I'd probably tell them to go sit on it and rotate.

Anonymous said...

My university tried to get money from me for a couple of years after grad. I told them I didn't have money to send them as I was trying to pay off the loans I had to take out so they could give free rides to athletes. These same athletes who'd last a semester before being put on probation, then flunking out. All because they could throw da ball, catch da ball, or run wit da ball.

Bitter? Me? Maybe. But I'm better off with a degree than they are without one.

LunaeFilia said...

I read your post and was very glad to see someone else thinking the same thoughts that I've had lately. I went to a very prestigious (read: expensive) school on the east coast... and while I'm sure there were people who graduated in the financial to donate money soon after graduation, I'm also sure that the majority of us were up to our eyeballs in debt. Just the fact that they had a "donate money to us" mailing sent out to both us and our parents right at graduation time was a big turn off. I'd just gotten done paying them after four years (or rather, just gotten done taking out loans!)... I definitely figured I deserved a break! I'm sure I'll donate in the future... but geez, give a girl a few years to get established first!

Kira said...

My boyfriend's mother got calls while he was still in school every couple of months. And she wasn't even paying for it! My parents get hit up too - my school doesn't call me, but I do get a lot of stuff in the mail.

I know my school has specific lists that they use to target donation pleas - like doctors who graduated 20 years ago, nurses who were in the top 20th percentile, etc etc, but they must REALLY be scraping the bottom of the barrel to think that newly minted liberal arts grads are a good prospect.