Colleges and universities are facing a problem. According to a 2018 report by The Alumni Factor, only 19.9 percent of alumni are giving money back to their former institutions. This low percentage is mainly due to the fact that tuition costs continue to rise.

In his article “Class Exodus,” Dan Allenby discussed how tuition rates have increased by an astronomical 80 percent. In contrast, federal aid has not increased by nearly that much, meaning that students are either paying much more out-of-pocket or having to take out even bigger loans and facing even larger debt. Along with the increase in tuition rates, many alumni are confused by how to give back.

In their article “Keeping the Connection,” Sarah Seedsman and Andrew Crisp say that around 57 percent of alumni are unclear how to give back financially to their school, while 15 percent think the contribution is difficult. Despite these difficulties, Seedsman and Crisp say that alumni still want to give back, but they also want to understand the impact of their gifts. The task is to help alumni understand that impact by letting them choose where and how to donate.

Most colleges do not allow alumni many options when it comes to donating back to their former institutions. Typically, alumni can either donate to the college’s general fund, or they can donate to their specific school or department. While both are fine options, they cut off a multitude of other potential avenues for alumni. Take, for example, collegiate recreation departments.

According to the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), collegiate recreation departments hire anywhere between 49 to 250 student employees, with the average being 130 student employees. Aside from receiving job experience, many recreational facilities also invest generously in their student employees through training and student development.

A 2017 survey conducted by Sam Stidham and Peter Titlebaum asked 27 different collegiate recreation departments across the United States how much they invest in student development.  Eight of these universities stated that they put a heavy investment in their student development, which included helping student employees with their resume and cover letter, providing mock interviews, issuing mandatory staff training, promoting the school’s Career Services department, and providing students with the opportunity to attend campus recreation-related conferences, such as NIRSA State Workshops or Student Lead-On. 

With such a heavy investment in student workers, it makes sense that some of them would be interested in giving back to their recreation department. However, as mentioned earlier, there aren’t many ways of doing that at this time. On top of that, recreation departments aren’t teaching their student workers about the importance of giving back in their training. This is a huge missed opportunity, as it is the perfect chance to introduce students to the importance of giving back while also showing them how to do so. 

Sticking with the campus recreation example, student workers gain training in just about everything but the art of giving back. This could be changed. During training, the student workers could be introduced to the idea of giving back and how important it is to the department. Collegiate recreation departments could even create their own avenues for students to give back.

One example could be summer camp scholarships. Recreation departments could choose a “Camper of the Year” who will have her camp costs covered for that summer by donations made from former student employees. The way student workers give back doesn’t have to be summer camps — it can be whatever the recreation department deems best; they just have to provide students with the option of giving back.

While in school, students are limited in how they can give. Outside of giving their time, students are not typically flush with cash. However, there will come a time when alumni will be able to give back to their universities. If schools want their students to give back, they have to give them more options.

As Mary Lou Santovec discussed in her article “Today’s Student Giving Campaigns: Smarter and Earlier,” alumni want to contribute to causes that they find important. Universities don’t currently give students many options. However, if colleges were open to creating more avenues for alumni to give back, they would certainly see their numbers rise. It really doesn't matter the cause. Whether through campus recreation, student development, athletics, or any other department, if alumni are given the freedom to choose where their donation goes, more students will give back.

Eric Schutter is an undergraduate at the University of Dayton, studying sport management. He has interest in pursuing a career in sales and fundraising or campus recreation.

Dr. Peter Titlebaum is professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton.