I spent a couple of weeks in January nursing a gloom-inducing inferiority complex. I was part of a team of academics reviewing applications for the most prestigious national fellowship in my field.
Only about 7 percent of applicants will get the award. Of the 35 or so candidates I reviewed, the few that I recommended for funding were simply stunning in their talent and achievement. The others, those unfortunate souls whom I voted to reject, suffered from being merely staggeringly good. They all seemed to have obtained 4.0 averages at elite institutions, written publishable senior theses and conducted summer research with world-famous scholars.
Who was I to sit in judgment of these people? I felt like a flabby Roman emperor giving a thumbs-down to the gladiator who was slightly less preternaturally strong and agile than the one who held the sword at his throat. I mean, I sure as hell couldn’t beat any of them. But besides the ache in my deflating ego was the discomfort of knowing that, while the applicants we were funding may have deserved it the most, they were also those who needed it the least. We weren’t making graduate school available to students who couldn’t afford it. We were simply pouring money into a handful of the world’s wealthiest universities.
I think of myself as a noncommissioned intellectual. Most of my job involves teaching economics at a small, academically respected liberal arts college with strong, highly motivated students. It’s a good job, and I like it.
Teaching is not all I do; Google Scholar tells me that my publications have been cited a few hundred times. But an economist my age at a research university will have thousands of citations, and the top economists will have tens of thousands.
So I am not one of the generals, so to speak, who lead the troops in our discipline, directing them to some new set of economic ideas. Nor am I a colonel supervising those early-career officers who might one day be generals. I am a sergeant.
I have been a sergeant for 33 years. I train the new recruits, the youngest enlisted personnel, only a few of whom will decide on an academic career. I think I’m a good sergeant, and good sergeants are valuable, as any general will tell you. But it feels odd for a sergeant to be identifying the next generals. I suppose I was recruited to this job because a flag officer’s time is too valuable to spend on this.
Interestingly, among the fellowship applicants -- the future generals, colonels and (at least) captains -- I spotted someone I thought would make a fine sergeant. It surprised me and made me think, “What are you doing here?” Like me, this person had been a good but not great student at an uncelebrated state institution and was not even an economics major. (My B.A. is in political science.) Unlike me, however, she had been compelled to support herself all the way through college. She had to overcome extraordinary personal challenges to arrive at graduate school, and remarkably, she did. The graduate program she enrolled in wasn’t at Stanford or Harvard, but it could produce great sergeants, and maybe once in a while a major or a colonel. And federally supporting this student might make it possible for the university to enroll another one or two.
Naturally, however, I did not propose funding for this potential sergeant. I wasn’t supposed to be looking for sergeants -- I was supposed to be looking for colonels and generals. To be sure, these fellowships take into account applicants’ special circumstances and try to be inclusive with respect to race and gender. But I couldn’t bring myself to recommend a merely good record over a batch of phenomenal ones.
In some ways, that is unfortunate. Without federal funding, the exceptional young scholars will almost certainly get financial assistance from one of the elite institutions. The federal fellowship doesn’t enable them to go to graduate school; it merely relieves Princeton or Yale of having to dip into their massive endowment returns or sizable research grants to support such top-notch students. In effect, this money makes the rich institutions richer.
I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to direct funding to the supertalented. After all, don’t we want to reward a truly superior performance over a merely excellent or good one? I don’t want to make an appeal for mediocrity.
But we should not delude ourselves that these funds are actually creating opportunities for graduate study. They are not. To actually accomplish that, a bit of the money that is going to fund the best of the best at the most elite institutions should be directed to the less wealthy ones, where Ph.D. recipients become good science teachers and competent researchers (which enhances teaching), but who are not always research stars. Even though few of the new recruits would eventually make general, if those funds supported a wider range of colleges and universities, they might increase the size of our army of scholars.
I am reminded of the title of the movie that made Andy Griffith famous: No Time for Sergeants. I hope that the elite members of the scientific and academic establishments will not take this attitude but will see the worth of supporting some noncoms, as well.
Mark Montgomery is Donald L. Wilson Professor of Enterprise and Leadership and professor of economics at Grinnell College.
For many institutions, a significant gift that advances the mission is an aspirational achievement, one that can impact many lives for the good, both on the campus and far beyond.
And in today’s high-stakes higher education funding model, advancement professionals are expected to find and secure these substantial and transformational gifts, working in partnership with their academic colleagues, institutional leadership and potential donors to help our institutions fulfill their missions, at least, and change the world, at best.
In 2009, the number of institutions in the United States with active fund-raising campaigns of $1 billion or more was 38. That number increased to 45 by 2015, with an additional 4 outside the U.S. To achieve these outcomes, institutions will need to secure more and more gifts of at least $1 million. In 2013 alone, 531 donations of at least $1 million and 147 contributions equal to or greater than $10 million were given to American colleges and universities, which means that yesteryear’s $1 million gift is tomorrow’s $400 million donation.
There is nothing wrong with institutions -- even those that are well endowed -- seeking the resources they need to provide world-class educations and experiences to their students today and well into the future. And now the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is a significant step closer to achieving that goal based on John A. Paulson’s remarkable $400 million gift.
That success should be celebrated alongside the fund-raising successes of many institutions across the country. But I’ve read critiques that state Paulson should have given his gift elsewhere -- somewhere more “worthy” or more “needy.” But the reality is that donors support the causes for which they are passionate. And in that way, all gifts are worthy.
This criticism, if left unanswered, could create an environment in which donors are more reticent with their philanthropic investments or prefer to make anonymous gifts. Were that to be the case, our institutions would be the poorer -- impacting students and life-changing research.
Most major gifts are tied to a long and carefully built relationship where the donor’s vision and institution’s priorities overlap in areas in which they can, together, make a transformational impact. And I believe Paulson’s gift to the engineering college is such an investment. A successful hedge fund manager, he clearly has a strong business acumen and the ability to invest smartly.
Harvard successfully made the case for the impact his gift can make for future students and for American innovation writ large. Paulson affirmed his appreciation for his alma mater by saying, “There is no question that the support and education I received at Harvard was critical in helping me achieve success in my career. Now I feel it is important for me to do something impactful and meaningful for Harvard.”
That type of enthusiasm for advancing education should unite, not divide us. Donors are often motivated by gratitude combined with a passion for philanthropy and investing in education -- whether they be five-dollar annual contributors or alumni with greater means.
Higher education and the general public’s celebration of a $400 million gift (the ninth largest to higher education) would seem to me appropriate because we know that the impact, visibility and scale of a gift of this significance has the ability to inspire further philanthropy to academe, including at many of the institutions that have more modest endowments or level of private support. Harvard’s success does not impede the ability of other institutions to approach their alumni and potential supporters for similarly transformational gifts. In fact, it encourages it.
I challenge all of us to laud Paulson’s record-breaking contribution and then get back out there, make the case for our institutions’ experience and outcomes and ask for others to be similarly inspired to make a profound difference.
Sue Cunningham is president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
I have been a college president for over a decade now. During my career I’ve not shied away from using the bully pulpit to address a number of issues. This includes questioning obscene gifts wealthy individuals have given to obscenely wealthy universities that primarily serve an obscenely wealthy student body.
Eight years later, Harvard University is in the news as alumnus John Paulson donated $400 million, the largest single gift to the oldest university in the United States and richest university on the planet.
But something is different today. A chorus of people from diverse backgrounds publicly expressed consternation about this gift. Some argued that gifts to the wealthy are not charity. Some lamented that the taxpayers pay for the tax breaks for the wealthy. Others still, notably Malcolm Gladwell, highlighted pressing issues we see across the globe and questioned how anyone could make this kind of gift today.
This is good. Diverse voices are now beginning to think critically about issues of equality and wealth. Whenever I’ve raised the issues, predictable criticisms come in. They tell me I’m just a hater because my institution is a poor performer (as they compare underresourced colleges against overly resourced ones as if they are equal).
This is just like saying Slovenia performed poorly in the 2014 Winter Olympics since the U.S. won 28 medals to its 8. Yet in medals per capita they were 4th (we were 21st), and in medals per GDP they were 2nd (we were 23rd). Slovenia did more with less (just like historically black colleges).
Others ask their favorite version of the “why do we need black colleges” question in this era of resegregated K-12 schools and overwhelmingly segregated neighborhoods, where all of our taxes support public, historically black elementary, middle and high schools. And yet these same folks were silent when black Harvard students through the I Too Am Harvard campaign complained about the racism they experience daily.
Hedge fund managers defended Paulson, arguing that giving resources to the brightest Americans will have a multiplier effect for the nation. The recent survey of the Harvard graduating class of 2015 indicated that a third of them are going into their top two career choices: finance and consulting. If multiplier means personal wealth, that defense of the gift is correct.
Some praised the gift because it will support research and innovation that can benefit humanity. Of course this is true, but if we don’t address key issues like K-12 education and job prospects for all, only the wealthy will benefit from these great advances.
Other argued that the gift would also be for scholarships and financial aid. In fact, when the pushback began both Paulson and Harvard reiterated this point, noting that low-income students could attend for free. It is on this point where I realize that we have much more work to do.
Here are the facts. Harvard’s total cost annually is $62,000. Yes, that’s just the sticker price, but when more than 40 percent of your student body receives no aid at all, we’re not talking about a needy population. Just 17 percent of the student body receives Pell Grants. At my institution, Dillard University, 98 percent of my students receive some form of aid, including 80 percent receiving the Pell Grant.
The Harvard Crimsonreported that in the recent freshman class, the average student comes from a family with between $125,000 and $250,000 in annual income, and 14 percent have household income above $500,000, placing them among the wealthiest in America. The median family income in New Orleans, where I work, is $35,000, and for my students is $31,000. The writers for The Crimson said it best in describing the class of 2017: “In Harvard Yard, 14 percent are the 1 percent.”
This gift increases Harvard’s endowment by a little over 1 percent. For me? It would increase it by over 500 percent. In fact, with a $400 million gift, I could use a 5 percent spending rate and pay the tuition and fees for all 1,200 Dillard students -- with money left over.
And that’s where we have to mature as a nation. Mega-gifts to the mega-rich can best be described as trendy. Everyone likes a winner and to be associated with a great brand. Harvard is so good they don’t need a tagline or branding campaign. If they did I imagine Dave Chappelle yelling, “Harvard. We’re rich, (rhyming bad word)!”
In fact, the key defense for these trendy gifts is always, “It’s his money.” I agree 100 percent. Paulson and Harvard only need to say that Harvard is his university, nurtured him, and he is blessed to do whatever he can for something he loves like family. They could simply drop the mic and move on.
This is in fact the best, most succinct and sincere answer they can and should give. Anything else is crap.
But when do the Paulsons of the nation transform the lives of people they may never meet? I tell donors when they support a Dillard student, they aren’t just supporting that student or changing their trajectory -- they have transformed generations of a family. It means a student on full scholarship doesn’t have to work two or three jobs to continue to support the family back home. It means a student can accept an unpaid Washington internship rather than cobble together summer jobs to pay tuition that is a fraction of Harvard’s.
The discussion around this new gift is encouraging. A new level of consciousness is growing. Hopefully we’ll have a new level of courage among ultrawealthy individuals, a level that allows them to share their resources with those who might not look like them or share their background or experiences.
People who, with the right investment, produce a generational multiplier effect that a gift to Harvard could never produce. This requires a transformational love, a love for those we do not know and will never meet.
Walter M. Kimbrough is the president of Dillard University.
On Friday, June 6, 2014, the United Negro College Fund accepted a $25 million donation from the Koch brothers. I urge the historic organization to consider giving it back. This money is tainted and there will be strings attached.
I authored a book titled Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund in 2007. The book tells the story of the creation of the UNCF and its delicate relationship with white philanthropy, mainly the Rockefeller family. Research tells us that white industrial philanthropists supported black colleges in order to educate a semi-skilled labor force for their businesses and those of their friends, and to control the education of black people. The money created opportunities during desperate times for some black students at UNCF institutions, but that doesn’t make the motives irrelevant. Given these historical motives, I’m compelled to ask: What are the motives of the Koch brothers, given their past affiliations and activities?
Since its establishment in 1944, the UNCF has worked across party lines and has taken money from people of all political persuasions. They have often had little choice, given the lack of access to capital that African Americans have had throughout American history. However, in the 1970s, under the leadership of Vernon Jordan and Christopher Edley Sr., the UNCF began to push back against the control that came bundled with white philanthropic support – control that manifested in the organization not being able to write a check for over $250 without the authorization of Rockefeller’s associates. The UNCF took on a stronger position, began hiring more black fund-raisers, and launched an edgy Ad Council campaign – "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste" – that pushed back against American racism and the oppression of blacks.
Alternative Point of View
The UNCF's goal of helping students at black colleges requires a focus on the value of philanthropy, not the politics of the donor, writes Brian K. Bridges. Read more.
Times have changed. Taking a donation from the Koch brothers hammers away at the integrity of the UNCF. Yes, $25 million is alluring and could be used to help black students. However, the costs are too high. The end does not justify the means. The Koch brothers have a considerable history of supporting efforts to disenfranchise black voters through their backing of the American Legislative Exchange Council. In addition, the Koch brothers have given huge amounts of money to Tea Party candidates who oppose many policies, initiatives, and laws that empower African Americans.
The UNCF has also given the Koch brothers two seats on the five-person committee that determines who will receive the scholarship money that the Koch brothers donated. Specifically, “An advisory board consisting of two UNCF representatives, two Koch representatives, and one faculty member from an existing school will be created to review scholarship applications and select recipients.” This is dangerous and gives the Koch brothers too much influence.
I urge the UNCF to consider returning this money to the Koch brothers. Yes, I know the organization needs it, but the cost is too high. Call Warren Buffet and beg him to give you the money instead. Call Oprah and ask her to help. Call every wealthy celebrity/athlete/business person who cares about education and the rights of African Americans and ask them to give. Make a plea to every black college alumnus, noting that you need him or her to save the UNCF’s integrity.
As designed by Tuskegee University President Frederick D. Patterson, the United Negro College Fund is a hallmark of African-American ingenuity and entrepreneurship. It is the organization that taught all of us that a mind is a terrible thing to Waste. Please join me in letting the UNCF know that an organization’s integrity is also a terrible thing to lose.
Oh, and while you are at it, please make a donation to the UNCF and support historically black colleges and African-American students. It’s not right to complain unless you put your money where your mouth is. I’m making my donation right now.
Marybeth Gasman is professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (John Hopkins University Press, 2007).
UNCF, the nation’s largest minority scholarship organization, recently announced a $25 million grant from longtime supporters Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation. The grant will support nearly 3,000 merit-based scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students and offer $4 million in financial relief for the 37 UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that were affected by the Parent PLUS loan crisis.
It’s important to note that for over 70 years, UNCF has welcomed all donors. Our only litmus test has been: Do you share a deep commitment to our mission — a mission designed to create better futures for African Americans by helping students realize their dream of a college education?
For those of us at UNCF who devote all our time to helping young African Americans realize their dreams of a college education, we are grateful for this grant as it represents a major opportunity to support our students through college and prepare them for careers and leadership after they graduate.
As the head of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, my focus has always been on understanding what it takes, financially and academically, for our students to succeed in and after college. Our research has identified critical findings about the impact of UNCF scholarships on the lives of students. As our most recent major grantor, the Koch partnership is designed to maximize these findings.
It’s important to understand who our students are and why scholarships are so important to them. Their need for assistance is 29 percent greater than other African-American college students – the racial group which is already the highest recipients of Pell Grants. At the same time, our students demonstrate enormous persistence, despite these lack of resources. Almost all first-year UNCF scholarship recipients -- 94 percent -- return for their sophomore year. 70 percent graduate within six years -- far exceeding the national average for all students.
Remarkably, a $5,000 scholarship awarded to an African-American freshman increases his or her likelihood of graduating by over seven percentage points. Looking at the big picture, an across-the-board rise in graduation rates of seven percentage points would graduate 16,000 more African Americans every year, as evidenced in our recent report: "Building Better Futures: The Value of a UNCF Investment."
The UNCF/Koch Scholars Program was created with this research in mind and includes 1,400 annual awards of $5,000 for undergraduate students. In addition, the activities of the program, focused on innovation and entrepreneurialism, are designed to meet the expressed desires of our students. Twenty-two percent of all our students major in business. Many of them tell us they are interested in starting their own businesses. Our students are hungry for opportunities to succeed in their communities, and many will start their own enterprises.
The UNCF/Koch partnership also provides critical support to our HBCUs, which have been hard-hit by recent changes to the Parent PLUS loan program. HBCUs – already a best buy in higher education, with lower tuitions than comparable four-year private colleges – play a vital role in providing educational opportunities for millions of minorities, many of whom currently come from low-income families and are first-generation college students. Though they represented only three percent of all four‐ and two‐year colleges and universities in 2012, HBCUs enrolled 10 percent of African American undergrads, produced 19 percent of the nation's African‐American bachelor’s degrees, and generated 27 percent of African-American bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields.
As we worked with Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation to develop this program, they also brought deep expertise from their longstanding commitment to higher education. The Charles Koch Foundation currently supports 340 programs at more than 250 colleges and universities across the country – both public and private schools, Ivy Leagues and HBCUs.
This year, UNCF awarded $100 million in scholarships to 12,000 deserving students, yet we still must turn down 9 out of every 10 qualified applicants. That is why we are asking all Americans to join in supporting UNCF and young African Americans who want a better future for themselves and their communities. These students deserve our support and we hope more Americans – of all political stripes and views -- will step up to meet this great need.
Brian K. Bridges is the executive director of UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which has produced considerable research on the value proposition of HBCUs and African American parent perceptions of education reform. Forthcoming reports investigate HBCU graduation rates and UNCF HBCU costs. For links to their reports please visit www.uncf.org/fdpri.