Philanthropy and Higher Education

Leiter links to a good editorial concerning philanthropy and higher education. The gist of it is that there’s no reason to recognize these gifts to elite universities as philanthropy at all. What they are is transfers of wealth among a limited pool of the privileged, noble gestures of making a sacrifice for the sake of one’s exclusive club. It’s pretty damning stuff, though I should note that the flagship state schools come in for criticism as well. A particularly damning bit of evidence is that at Columbia almost as much is spent on financial aid for students whose families make $100,000+ a year as those in the $20,000-$40,000 range. This is in spite of the fact that Columbia has one of the most enlightened policies concerning financial aid and equality of access among the Ivies and similar institutions.

My addition would be that from a pragmatic perspective, it is quite perverse to claim real philanthropic intent when giving to an institution like Columbia. With tuition and fees being $31,000 a year, it is an extremely expensive proposition to support financial aid. Would students be that much worse off if the money went to Berkeley, Michigan or UNC (in state tuition and fees of $5,000)? As far as helping the least privileged, one wouldn’t give to these universities, but ones even further down the totem pole.

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2 responses to “Philanthropy and Higher Education

  1. From a slightly different pragmatic perspective, wouldn’t the real philanthropic move be to give the money to high schools, junior highs, and elementary schools (private or public)? $400 million could get a lot of text books, teachers, after school programs, and other needed materials. Maybe that’s following the “further down the totem pole” line in a slightly different direction.

  2. It’s an interesting question and a possibility that didn’t occur to me. I wonder about the logistics of giving to the public schools, given that their budgets almost completely come from the state and local governments. It strikes me that grants to the public primary and secondary schools mostly end up being things like extra computers. In principle however, there’s no reason to think that wouldn’t be a good idea.

    As for private schools, I’m hesitant, because it strikes me as if most of the private schools exist to cater to wealthy families, and/or Christian groups who object to the nature of public education.

    Another point is that while one might choose to give to primary and secondary schools, we couldn’t all ignore the colleges, given how they are usually funded. The opportunity to get a high school degree simply isn’t enough in contemporary America.