Is contributing to financial aid effective?

, Marblehead, MA

Opening my mail tonight, I found my alma mater’s annual request for a contribution.

I gave regularly from 2000 until recently, always earmarked to support financial aid.

Recently, I wonder if I’m subsidizing inflated tuition rather than reducing real costs for students.

A few weeks ago, I searched for information about the university’s long term plan for tuition levels. I was hoping to find target tuition levels or target increases relative to inflation, relative to other universities, public and private, or relative to competition from new online alternatives to a traditional 4 year undergraduate education. I didn’t find much with respect to forward looking plans.

I did find historical tuition levels. A chart of inflation-adjusted amounts shows 1997-1998 tuition cost about twice as much in real terms as 1979-1980 tuition. Real tuition has increased another 30% since 1997.

The 2011-2012 financial report indicates that tuition is roughly 10% of operating revenue, within range to imagine it could be reduced to zero with a little creativity, even if that’s not a prudent goal.

I continue to value access to a great education as a worthy cause, but how do I know that my contribution makes a real impact? Maybe I could have a greater impact on access to education by contributing energy to advocating student loan reform. And maybe there’s a better cause for my financial contributions.

Do you give to your alma mater? For what causes? Why are those causes valuable to you?

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