The immediate answer to the question “why should graduates donate to their alma maters?”, which Richard Budd poses in his blog post “Isn’t asking for alumni donations, well, just weird?” (25 April), is that you would have had to pay more for the experience and education that you received if alumni had not been donating. The moral question becomes one of whether you would like to return the favour for future generations.
Funding for public universities is complex, involving an imperfect arbitration of competing needs – most particularly between publicly funded healthcare and education. The latter tends to be lower on the priority list. Donations from alumni (and others) provide a means of setting priorities more independently of those of the government of the day.
In my experience as a department chair actively involved in advancement, alumni who donate are grateful for the experience and the education that they received at what is one of the most formative stages of their lives, and they derive personal satisfaction from being able to support universities in their mission to educate future generations. I work primarily with engineering donors. Proportionally, engineers give well above their representation in graduating classes from my university, and they are particularly philanthropically inclined – and give widely to the university to support humanities and the arts as well as STEM subjects.
As an alumnus, it is in your interest to donate to your alma mater. Moral arguments aside, the value of your degree is closely tied to the perceived strength and reputation of your alma mater now, not when you attended.
It is in an alumnus’ interest to maintain, if not strengthen, the reputation of their alma mater because the university’s brand directly reflects on that individual’s reputation (and career and social prospects). One of the easiest means of helping to protect your alma mater’s brand is to give it support through cash (less labour-intensive than mentoring students or volunteering). Consequently, donating to one’s old university often makes economic sense.
No one cares which gym you belonged to three years ago if you are fit and strong now. However, many people will care where your degree is from, sometimes in spite of what it may (or may not have) taught you to do.