Ben Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

Good ol’ Penn never misses a chance to remind me how un-philanthropic I’ve been:

(The 5 bucks in 2008 got each “donor” a senior year t-shirt.)

Since I moved to China a year ago, my alma mater has been my most ardent pennpal, even if the correspondence has been strictly one-sided. I appreciate the alumni magazines, whose stories occasionally make me swell with pride and nostalgia, but it irks me to receive “Have YOU made a gift to Penn this year?” mail every two months. This recent letter in particular, by insinuating my utter stinginess and lack of school spirit, and pointing out my failure to donate during FY07 (while I was still in school, hello), left quite a bitter aftertaste.

I realize that universities rely, in varying degrees, on gifts to survive and to support incoming classes. And generally, the larger its endowment, the more a school will be recognized for producing successful (read: high-earning) graduates. So our “gift” matters. I get that. That’s why The Penn Fund is encouraging us to “Stay engaged with Penn by realizing the impact that Young Penn Alumni have through the tradition of annual giving to The Penn Fund.”

However, this advice is not only equivocal (“realize” as in acknowledge or make real?) but also likely to backfire: hounding recent graduates for our hard-earned money, especially in the current economic environment, risks making us want to disengage instead. Especially when we are then attacked, in bold, with the fact that Penn alumni who graduated less than five years ago typically raise over $160,000 per year ($160 per person, on average).

Is everyone else in my class “giving”? I doubt it. Yeah, my class had a boatload going on to $60,000+ jobs the summer after graduation, but the majority, I (would like to) believe, are still floundering in a world of entry-level salaries and graduate school, not to mention undergrad debt. I was very fortunate not to have had to take out loans, but I can only imagine that if I still had years to pay back for my own undergraduate education (because my school asked so much and gave so little financially), it would make me feel truly wronged to be demanded money to pay for someone else’s.

Don’t take it the wrong way. I love Penn. It was the best four years of my life so far, and I am sincerely grateful to have been allowed the experience.

But I don’t see my school pride in connection with financial gifts, just as I don’t view my having gone to Penn in connection with my current financial situation. And maybe this is a bad attitude to have, but I feel I will be ready to give only when the impact—more specifically, the monetary returns—of a Penn education is personally made clear to me (or, in their words, when I “realize” that impact). For now, I will concentrate on giving back to my parents, who believed enough in me to cough up all that dough in the first place.

Do you give to your school? Why or why not? Am I selfish and hypocritical for not doing it? Also, any thoughts on the quote (which was found at the top of the letter)? Seems like these days, investments in skill offer better returns, no?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Ben Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

  1. Iris

    Haha that’s kinda obnoxious for them to rub it in like that, but obviously it got a reaction out of you! I did give my alma mater $20. I would donate again. I enjoyed my education there enough to pitch in a little. Maybe it’s also because I work in higher education; I feel for them.

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