When billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin announced last week that he will donate $150 million to Harvard University, his alma mater, he reignited a national debate over the value of donating to prestigious colleges. In a Slate article, Matthew Yglesias called for college graduates to withhold donations to the country’s most selective schools, which he called “terrible targets of charitable donation” because their funds go to mostly affluent students. Yglesias says that anyone hoping to benefit low-income students would be better off donating to the institutions that educate the majority of that demographic. This idea has gained considerable national media attention. Bloomberg ran an article titled “Cut off Harvard to Save America” and the debate extended into the NESCAC when The Williams Record published an op-ed by junior Chris Huffaker in which he argued that donating to Williams would do little to make the world a better place. 

While we recognize the validity of these criticisms, we feel strongly that Bowdoin alumni play a vital role by donating to the College. Arguments like Yglesias’ are utilitarian; they advocate the greatest positive effect for society in general, while ignoring the immense value that a Bowdoin education has for an admittedly smaller number of people. A Bowdoin degree can transform the socio-economic trajectory of a low- or middle-income student. Bowdoin has a clear purpose for its students—offering them a high-quality education and access to good and meaningful jobs—and it serves this purpose exceptionally well. Alumni should reward the College not only for fulfilling its educational mission but also for the opportunities it has afforded them.

Though young alumni in the earliest stages of their careers—still wincing from the costs of textbooks or student loans—may hesitate about donating right after graduation, a gift brings more to the College than its cash value. This year’s ongoing Senior Class Gift Campaign has a participation goal of 85 percent, and for each year out of the next five that the Class of 2014 reaches 60 percent participation, an anonymous donor will contribute $10,000 to a scholarship for a member of the Class of 2018. We encourage seniors to donate any amount they can to help make this scholarship a reality.  Additionally, a donation is a symbolic gesture of gratitude to the institution that has subsidized the education of all students, even those paying full tuition. (The true cost of a Bowdoin education is upwards of $85,000 per year.)

Donating to a highly selective college is not going to directly impact the neediest populations. However, alumni can earmark donations for specific projects—whether financial aid, the McKeen Center for Common Good, or sustainability efforts—to ensure that their money is going toward the causes at the College that they deem most worthy. And though a Bowdoin education might not, for example, directly help the students in the Harlem Children’s Zone, it educated Geoffrey Canada ’74, the man who did. 

The editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Erica Berry, Nora Biette-Timmons, Garrett Casey, Ron Cervantes, Marisa McGarry, Sam Miller and Kate Witteman.