US News keeps score.
While alumni membership, gear purchases, season-ticket ownership, communications digestion, positive facebook postings, volunteerism, pride in athletics and ability to talk the Aztecs up around the water cooler are evidence of alumni engagement, alumni participation is officially measured by just one thing: US News and World Report defines it as the number of current undergraduate degree holders who are donors, divided by alumni of record.
So, it is all about annual giving.
And while some schools have been exposed in the Wall Street Journal and other publications for “gaming” the numbers, the vast majority of schools play it straight. They don’t conveniently “lose” the addresses of non-donors. They don’t amortize a $25 gift over five years. They don’t encourage alumni to donate one dollar to up their percentages.
San Diego State plays it straight. We never exaggerate our participation rate.
So why is this statistic important? First of all, good, bad or otherwise, US News and World Report College Rankings dictate plenty of behaviors of students looking to apply to colleges, and their rankings are commonly accepted as a leading barometer of academic prestige. They seem to be the default go-to source for rankings.
Over the years the magazine has established a system categorizing schools as “National,” “Liberal Arts” and “Regional.” The top category is “National.” There are 280 of these institutions. San Diego State is tied at 164 on the list. Compared with more than 1,500 total colleges and universities in the rankings, we look good.
Alumni participation constitutes five percent of the overall assessment. (As you might suspect, the other 95 percent is comprised of academic reputation, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources and more) And while five percent is not a huge factor, it should be noted that the overall scores of the schools bunched in the middle are really close.
So why should alumni giving play any role in a school’s academic reputation and ranking? The simple answer is that US News says so. Its editors believe alumni giving reflects alumni satisfaction, which reflects overall institutional quality.
Before I ruin your day by giving you the bad news, it should be noted that San Diego State is public, is only in the past couple of decades emerging from the characterization of “commuter school,” and as recently as two university presidents ago maintained the philosophy that fundraising would only deter state support. Obviously, in the last 20 years and most significantly in the last five, as we have launched our first comprehensive $500 million campaign, we have morphed into an institution that encourages and desperately needs to embrace a philanthropic culture.
We are at two percent.
We have raised nearly $300 million during the first four and a half years of The Campaign for SDSU and many of our alumni have made six and seven-figure institutionally transforming gifts, but our overall alumni participation is two percent. Specifically, for the 2009-2010 academic year, we had 3,767 alumni donors divided by 165,076 alumni of record. That’s 2.28%.
This is not about quantity of dollars. We simply need to become better at persuading thousands more alumni to be annual donors to SDSU. As competitive as we have become on multiple fronts to become such a great institution, we are not passing this course.
So please help spread the word. We need our alumni to step up and be counted. State helped you learn how to compete. As an influential publication keeps score, the competition continues.
Any amount. Every year. giveonline.sdsu.edu/giving