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Marketwatch article - The link between alumni donations and college rankings

i012575i012575 Registered User Posts: 451 Member
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-link-between-alumni-donations-and-college-rankings-2019-01-09

"The relationship is well understood in the higher education universe, but little discussed in the mainstream. Among the crush of solicitations from nonprofits we’ve come to expect in our inboxes during the holiday season, one stood out in particular to Rachel Fishman this year. “Keep Our Rankings High” read the subject line of the email from her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin."

"The share of alumni who donate represents 5% of U.S. News’ formula, a fraction of the weight the company gives to outcome measures, like graduation and retention rates and social mobility, which account for 35% of the formula, Robert Morse, the chief data strategist at U.S. News, wrote in an email. The donation rate is meant to serve as an indirect measure of graduates’ satisfaction and engagement with their schools, he wrote."

Replies to: Marketwatch article - The link between alumni donations and college rankings

  • shawbridgeshawbridge Registered User Posts: 5,587 Senior Member
    I didn't know that colleges were using that metric directly to solicit or that it went into rankings in any way. However, I have always thought that the percentage of alumni who give and the percentage who give every year were good measures of satisfaction. I attended college at a university very high on the list (maybe the highest) and then grad school at two universities that are very successful in rising money but are not nearly as high on the metrics. The second is at or near the top 10 and the third is lower down.i would say that comparing the first to the third, there is a significant difference in undergraduate satisfaction.
  • mackinawmackinaw Registered User Posts: 2,934 Senior Member
    edited January 10
    I've been donating annually to my alma mater, Reed College, for decades. Somehow it doesn't seem to impress USNews. US News does change its criteria from time to time. And colleges that my kids attended have benefited in the rankings' dependence on data that have little to nothing to do with measured outcomes. U of Chicago's move from >30% acceptance rate to <10% acceptance rate has driven a lot of their improvement in rankings. But I doubt the quality of the college has changed much if at all over the last 20 years.

    I did look at various books and magazine rankings when my kids were applying. But I was looking for information about admission criteria and the quality of programs, not reputation. Data that the colleges have produced, in particular the undergraduate origins of doctoral students by discipline, were especially important to me. For example this: https://www.reed.edu/ir/phd.html. It didn't matter to me that Chicago's USNews ranking was modest: the PhD data told me that the quality of educational programs was very high. So my oldest enrolled there and I continue to contribute annually to that program now that he's graduated.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 12,081 Senior Member
    @mackinaw Doesn't Reed choose not to participate in US News data collection? I think I read that USN ranks it anyway, but very low because they don't send back the forms.
  • PublisherPublisher Registered User Posts: 5,436 Senior Member
    edited January 13
    Yes, Reed College used to enjoy a high ranking, but rebelled against cooperating with US News so US News returned the favor. Kind of like messing with a powerful politician.

    If I recall correctly, Reed let it be known that it was not sending in the info. & criticized US News. So Reed College now enjoys being ranked at #90 in US News LACs behind Luther College.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 30,647 Senior Member
    Yes, the percentage of alumni giving is seen as an indication of satisfaction. And it matters very much in "corporate & foundation" decisions on which colleges to give to. That's one reason you should consider even a small gift. Your $25 (and the small gifts of so many more alums) may reap more, in the end. To me, this is less about some media ranking than what the C&F grants can mean.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,618 Senior Member
    That metric punishes public universities in the rankings. Many of their older alumni attended college when public higher education was cheap or nearly free, with the lion's share of the costs covered by legislative appropriations. Many alums still adamantly insist it's the state's responsibility to pick up the tab, and if the state is no longer pulling its weight, that's a political problem, not a problem they feel personally responsible for; alumni giving might even be seen as a kind of tacit acquiescence to the legislature's shirking, perversely encouraging further bad behavior on the legislature's part. And because most people vastly overestimate how much of the cost of running a major public university comes out of their tax dollars, many alums think they've already contributed at tax time. So it's an uphill struggle for public institutions to persuade their alums to contribute. And because until fairly recently most public institutions didn't need to rely so much on alumni donations, they didn't put much effort into it, and even today the institutional infrastructure necessary to chase down, track, and solicit a very large alumni base is underdeveloped at many public institutions---as is the culture of alumni giving.

    Even among private institutions it may be a lousy proxy for alumni satisfaction. The degree of institutional effort that goes into maximizing the number of alumni contributors can vary pretty widely. At some schools it's a well-oiled machine. Other schools find they get a higher return on investment by concentrating their time and resources on a smaller number of big donors. As a result, the percentage of alumni giving may be a better metric of institutional effort than of alumni satisfaction.

    Finally, even if alumni giving were a perfect indicator of alumni satisfaction, that doesn't necessarily tell us much about current student satisfaction. A school that was stellar in the past could go into steep decline and still have a lot of satisfied alumni, even though current students are miserable. By the same token a school that was lousy in the part might have improved, so that current students are much more satisfied than past generations of alums.
  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 9,167 Senior Member
    Every metric punishes someone else- that's kind of the point of a "ranking"- number 3 is "better than" number 5, and number 30 is "better" than number 100.

    Caveat Emptor.
  • browniesundaebrowniesundae Registered User Posts: 120 Junior Member
    @mackinaw Although it may have an indirect effect (e.g. on high school counselors' perception), acceptance rate is not one of the metrics used by US News.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,618 Senior Member
    blossom wrote:
    Every metric punishes someone else- that's kind of the point of a "ranking"- number 3 is "better than" number 5, and number 30 is "better" than number 100.

    True that. But if you use a metric that biases the ranking without revealing anything useful, that's a problem with the ranking, don't you think? My point was that US News' argument that the percentage of alumni who donate is a good proxy for alumni satisfaction is just pure bunk.
  • blossomblossom Registered User Posts: 9,167 Senior Member
    Graduation rates are a proxy for the affluence of the parents of the students. Numerous studies show that poor kids take more time to complete a BA than rich kids. Peer assessment is a proxy (for at least the top 25 universities) for institutional age and size of their doctoral programs 20 years ago when current faculty across the country were getting their PhD's.

    I get that you don't like rankings. And your issues are quite legitimate. But you gotta measure something if you're going to be in the ranking business, and I don't think any single metric is any more or less objectionable than any other.

    Surprise, surprise- the provosts of 100 universities rate Berkeley, UVA and Michigan as the top public U's in the country. Some intrepid reporter ought to calculate the number of faculty that these provosts have hired and supervised during their tenures who come from .... wait for it.... Berkeley, UVA and Michigan.

    Mind you I don't disagree with the "peer assessments". I don't think you need a PhD to look at the directional State U down the street from me and look at Michigan and conclude that Michigan has a better reputation for a lot of very quantifiable reasons. But "Peer assessment" isn't asking for those quantifiable elements.

  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,618 Senior Member
    For those who think alumni giving rate is a good proxy for alumni satisfaction, it’s worth considering that most of the top scorers on this metric are LACs. There are a handful of exceptions, including Princeton (59.1%, #1 among “national universities), Dartmouth (43.8%), USC (41.7%), Notre Dame (41.4%), and U Chicago (40.3%). But Harvard (33.1%) looks a little shabby in comparison to Princeton, and while H’s score is good for 9th place among national universities, it lags behind at least 28 LACs with higher scores. Stanford (31.8%) and Yale (28.3%) fare even worse: Stanford is #12 among national universities but behind at least 33 LACs, while Yale is #18 among national universities but behind at least 45 LACs.

    Now I will say that most alums of top LACs I’ve known are highly satisfied with their almae matres. But then, so are most alums of HYPS. Do we really think alums of Princeton (59.1%) and Williams (51.4%) are twice as satisfied (or twice as likely to be satisfied) as alums of Yale? Color me skeptical. I suspect it has more to do with the efficiency and effectiveness of the alumni and development offices in tracking alumni whereabouts and pitching them for contributions, coupled with the level of time, energy, and resources they devote to that task. And of course, LACs have a built-in advantage because they have far fewer alums to keep tabs on.
  • IzzoOneIzzoOne Registered User Posts: 428 Member
    I think alumni giving is a good general proxy for alumni satisfaction. It is only 5% in USNews weighting, so it really isn't a big factor.
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