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Colleges increase efforts to gain parent donations

On top of high tuition rates, some schools are reaching out to parents for additional funding for their schools, a trend Boston University students said is fair only under certain circumstances.

According to a Thursday New York Times article, officials at schools such as the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan and the University of California-Berkeley are asking parents and current students to donate money in addition to paying tuition, marking a shift from fundraising efforts generally aimed at alumni.

Claire Simons, a College of Communication sophomore, said she used to work for Telefund with BU Alumni Association and would call alumni, parents and some current seniors asking for donations. She recently quit her job with Telefund because she thought the amount of money she had to ask people to donate was unfair.

People can donate any amount above $5 to BU, and can designate exactly what their funds go toward, Simons said. Simons had to ask potential donors for $250 per year as a starting point.

“It’s stupid, the amount of money we ask,” Simons said. “… I think I’ve had one or two people ever who have accepted that initial amount … What I would do is ask them for the initial amount … and then I would go down to a second number which was something like $100 per year, and then the third amount is penny for graduation year, so if I was graduating in 2016, I would donate $20.16, which I think is reasonable.”

Parental donations accounted for a fraction of the total $31 billion in donations given to public and private colleges during the 2012 fiscal year, according to the New York Times article. While parental giving dropped to an all-time low in 2009 at 2.1 percent of all donations, college administrators’ attendance at Washington-based Council for Advancement and Support of Education conference on parent programs has increased by 50 percent since 2009.

Simons said while donations eventually add up, small donations do not make much of a difference on their own. However, donations are essential to universities because the vast majority of well-accepted college ratings systems are based on the percentage of people who donate to the school.

“What you’re really donating for is the ratings,” Simons said. “And as someone who is making these calls, I don’t care if you give us $500 or if you give us $5. I just like to see that donation there because the percentage of people donate … increases our ratings in a lot of reports …  It’s stupid, it’s a terrible system, but that is why we ask for donations.”

Madeline Shalita, a COM senior and a BU Alumni Relations employee, said if people did not reach out and donate to BU, the school would not have many of the amenities that students enjoy.

“BU has developed a lot and become a lot less of a ‘Richie Rich’ school and has a lot more scholarships now because of the fact that they reach out to parents and do a lot more than they used to,” she said. “It used to be that really the only people they reached out to would be those top one percent.”

Rodrigo Lemmi, a School of Management junior, said people seem willing to donate to BU because they are able to see how their funds impact the reputation and value of the university.

“Recently, SMG got [ranked] really high … and, basically, the funding that was given was the main part of it,” Lemmi said. “If you get good professors, good material and a good building, you need money for that … Now that you can see BU is actually giving something back for the funding, people want to fund it more.”

Nick Dragonetti, a Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences junior, said it is fair for college officials to ask parents for donations, but given the high rates of tuition and state of the economy, the school should not expect large monetary gifts.

Dragonetti said parents might be more willing to donate to the university after their kids graduate as sort of a “thank you” for the education their child received.

“Knowing that I got a good education here and knowing that it helped me out later in life, they [Dragonetti’s parents] would feel that maybe they would want to see other people go here in the future and do as well as hopefully I will be doing,” Dragonetti said.

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