Holy Cross, the small, Jesuit, liberal arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts, has long boasted one of the highest rates of alumni giving in the country. As July came to a close the College announced donations from more than twenty-one thousand alumni in the past year, surpassing the fifty per cent participation mark for the tenth year in a row.
Particularly striking is that class of 2016—the graduating seniors—contributed to their class gift at a rate of more than sixty per cent (four hundred and twenty-seven students out of some seven hundred overall). This is a remarkably high rate, outstripping overall alumni giving rates at all other schools nationally except Princeton.
What would drive more than four hundred twenty-one year-olds—perhaps the most financially unstable demographic one could think of—to show such generosity to their school? Looking slightly more widely, one notices that among USA News and World Reports’ list of top ten nationwide alumni-giving averages, six come from top-tier liberal arts schools (Thomas Aquinas, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Davidson, and Wellesley).
Perhaps students find something unique at these colleges that they want to help preserve for future generations. Perhaps it is the teaching-focused, close-knit, and mission-driven nature of these schools that attracts students and wins their continued loyalty.
And perhaps such schools should jealously guard these assets as more and more colleges and universities become mired in the tar pit of “Best Practices” homogenization. Instead of trying to ape the gold-plated Ivies in development, expansion, and size, small liberal arts schools should be careful to preserve their particular charisms—indeed, their high-minded particularity is not just good for students, but, apparently, good for business.