BY BRIAN ROSENBERG
WHEN YOU RECEIVE this issue of Macalester Today, the Step Forward campaign to raise $150 million in support of a range of college priorities will be less than a year from its scheduled conclusion at the end of 2011.
We expect the campaign to be successful, and we know that it has already made and will continue to make a major difference in our ability to educate students. We know that we have benefited from the generosity of thousands of alumni, parents, and friends of the college. In this column, however, I do not want to talk about money. (Interesting question: Can a college president do such a thing?) Rather, I want to talk about participation.
Among our most important goals for Step Forward is to reach a 65 percent alumni participation rate. Currently we stand at 58 percent. To put this in context, many of our peer institutions have reached alumni participation rates of 75 percent in recent campaigns, so we do not believe our goal to be excessively ambitious or unrealistic.
Why does this matter? That is, if we manage to reach our goals for scholarship support, capital projects, academic programs, and the annual fund, why should we care how many of our alumni participated?
We should care for several reasons. Campaigns like Step Forward have among their goals not only raising funds but also strengthening a shared sense of ownership of the college and a shared endorsement of its mission and purpose. They represent an opportunity for alumni to show how important Macalester is in their lives, the lives of current students, and the evolution of the local, national, and international communities our graduates inhabit.
Fairly or not, the percentage of alumni who give back to their alma mater is one of the important ways foundations, prospective students, and external organizations judge the impact and effectiveness of an education—or at least judge whether graduates feel as if their college education has been satisfactory enough to justify a return investment.
Delivering a clear and positive message about the value of a Macalester education has never been more important. I do not believe we have faced a moment in our lifetimes when the public willingness to make wise investments in higher education has been lower and the need to make such investments has been greater.
Higher education can and should strive constantly for greater efficiencies and better outcomes. But the truth is we know a good deal about what works in education and much of it goes on at Macalester. We know that outstanding faculty and staff working closely with students produce high graduation rates and sharp improvement in essential skills. This is efficiency. We know that the rate of return—whether measured in economic, social, or personal terms—of a Macalester education is high. We believe it more critical than ever that our graduates serve as our ambassadors through their work, their testimony about the college, and, yes, through their giving back.
Participation in the Step Forward campaign is not difficult. Any gift of any size to the Annual Fund or any other college priority counts. I can’t resist noting that our youngest alumni, who have the fewest resources, are participating in this campaign at the highest level—a sign that Macalester’s efforts today are highly valued and a wonderful portent for the college’s future. I do not believe that the alumni participation rates for Macalester campaigns in 20 years will be lower than those of our peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they turned out to be higher.
To those who have already given to the Step Forward campaign I extend my deepest thanks. I encourage you to share your enthusiasm for Macalester with your fellow alumni. To those who have not yet participated, I ask that you consider doing so as a signal of support for an institution that made a difference in your lives and whose quality and values I consider exemplary within American higher education.
And, of course, the financial help you provide has never been more critical than in these challenging economic times. (Rats. I almost made it all the way through without talking about money.)
BRIAN ROSENBERG, the president of Macalester, writes a regular column for Macalester Today. He can be reached at email@example.com.