Thanks to KW who correctly noted that this Harvard Crimson editorial making the case for contributing to the senior gift would strike a nerve with me:
Senior gift, in general, is a good idea. Harvard College is an institution worthy of our support because it largely succeeds as a mechanism for social justice. By the numbers, few schools do as much to empower the middle and working classes. Harvard has embarked on an ambitious financial aid initiative that has brought scholarship to portions of the population that only decades ago were nearly shut out of higher education. Harvard’s broad financial aid program, which strives to prevent students from graduating indebted, has combated the recent hyperinflation of college fees that has mired many young students in debt and forced others away from college completely. Harvard not only promotes socioeconomic mobility but it provides young people who will surely become leaders of industry and politics with valuable critical-thinking skills and exposure to peers from different backgrounds.
Sorry, no. Now, look, if you’re considering giving $10 to Harvard or lighting a ten dollar bill on fire, then obviously you should give it to Harvard. But if you’ve got some cash that’s burning a hole in your pocket and you want to give it away to charity and you specifically want to give it away to a charity that “succeeds as a mechanism for social justice” and “promotes socioeconomic mobility” this is an insane course of action. Harvard has a lot of money. Almost everyone needs your money more than Harvard does. Give it to Oxfam. Give it to a homeless person. Next time you’re on the T, leave the money on a seat. It’s an almost trivial task.
Now if you specifically want to give money to an institution of higher education that promotes social mobility, then you should take a little time and do a little research. You’re smart. You had good SAT scores. The Washington Monthly does an annual survey where they attempt to quantify this. Look up the list here. They say the best option is South Carolina State University, a school where 71% of the student body is eligible for Pell Grants and where the graduation rate (45%) is much higher than would be predicted from incoming freshman’s demographic characteristics.
That said, I shouldn’t slag on Harvard too much. In terms of social mobility it’s no South Carolina State or Florida A&M University but it does come out higher on the rankings than the rest of the Ivy League. So my advice to fancy school grads across the board is to send $10 unsolicited to a school that ranks higher on the Monthly list, and send a polite note to development team at your school explaining to them what you did and why. It’s clear that elite schools want to be perceived as engines of social mobility. The people who run them need to be made aware that alumni want them to actually live up to this idea.