Worse Than a Student Loan?

I went to college at Cooper Union in New York City.  One of the long-standing policies of the school is that everyone who is admitted for a bachelor’s or master’s degree has a full-tuition scholarship.  I paid $300/year as a ‘student fee,’ bought my books, and that was it.  As an alumnus, I’m encouraged to (and do) contribute to the school, but there is no requirement to do so.

But in recent years, expenses have gone up while revenues (Cooper owns the land the Chrysler Building sits on, as well as other properties and investments) have not, and they’re having problems.  That’s understandable: times are tough for everyone.

But one of the solutions they’re contemplating leaves me cold:

The social responsibility of students, alumni, and parents who have benefited from the full-tuition scholarship policy needs to be addressed.

  • For current students, a modified version of the plan being explored by the University of California, Riverside, should be considered.  For example, graduates would agree to a lifetime pledge of 2% of after tax adjusted gross income.
  • For alumni, a reciprocal pledge should be requested, as well as a catch-up and bequest program to include Cooper in their estate planning.
  • For parents of current students and of alumni, the same reciprocal pledge should be requested, as well as a catch-up and bequest program to include Cooper in their estate planning.

Until now, the theory was that, in contributing to Cooper, one was not paying for one’s own education, but for making that education available for future students.  There was never a sense of having to donate as much as one’s tuition might have been.  It was not a ‘social responsibility,’ it was a free decision to ‘pay it forward’ for future generations.

If I had had to pay tuition, I’m sure I would have paid it off by now.  At that point, any ‘social responsibility’ I might have had would be over.

For my part, now, I resent having a social responsibility dropped on me, 29 years after graduation.  And if I were going to school now, I would resent the idea of the school holding a mortgage on my achievements for the rest of my life.  It’s worse than a student loan: the loan is finite, and when it’s paid off, that’s the end.

At least my parents are dead, so the school can’t hit them up for money.

5 thoughts on “Worse Than a Student Loan?”

  1. As there is no ex post law, there should be no ex post unilateral renegotiation of alumni “responsibilities”. It’s a guilt trip for the alumni. Don’t worry about it. All that they can do is ask, because they would be opening the door to a LOT of lawsuits if they threatened to cancel your degree or took some other adverse action against the people who didn’t “contribute”. Any contract requires the consent of both parties, and you didn’t agree to give them the ability to reach into your wallet on demand in perpetuity when you attended the school.

    I’ve never donated a dime to any of my colleges. They got cheap work from me as an undergrauate and graduate student, and I consider any debt that they think that I owe them paid in full.

  2. I know they can’t impose an actual obligation on me retroactively. They also can’t revoke my degree, although they might refuse to issue me a transcript, which isn’t really a problem.

    What bothers me is imposing an obligation like that on future students. It suggests that you don’t own the content of your own mind.

    I also would have liked to believe that my college is, well, smarter than that.

  3. This is truly head-spinning… Whenever I get a phone call from some nice, young, earnest college student from either of my two alma maters (yup, that’s right I’ve got two useless degrees, grad and under-grad, from my chosen former field) , I cut them off quick and ask them to remove me from the list. I simply explain I am a permanent member of the underemployed working poor and will never have the disposable
    income necessary to “give back to” or support the colleges.

    I also warn them that many of their peers will likely join me in my status and that these kids would do well to do some research about the probabilities regarding their future job and financial prospects. I always got stunned silence from them and quick apologies. BTW, they don’t call me for money anymore. The way I see it, my non-contribution and discouraging talks to the solicitors are both a public service to the kids and a payback for the way the colleges conned me into wasting time and money, especially for the masters degree.

  4. Singing Thinker you wrote almost word for word what I was going to write. I too have two worthless degrees from two colleges and am part of the underclass. I also get calls from these schools and what really bothers me is how both schools are going from academic based scholarships to need based regardless of grades. In theory fine but the reality is this will mean many more students who shouldn’t be in school who will take the place of someone with the brains and both will suffer.

    In fact I am forever banned from my undergrad college (a famous art school)because of comments I made to a local paper about the open admission scam.

  5. “Giving back” is a scam. It’s not for others to decide for you what something is worth. Even if they “suggest” guideline, there is no enforcement. Let them charge tuition in the future.

    Even refusing to issue a transcript would set them up for a lawsuit, presuming that you have paid all fees that were due while an undergraduate. As I said, they can ASK, but if they take any action that is at all inconvenient for you, it takes only one disgruntled student or graduate of the college to sue, and to sue college staff members individually for damages. That’s something that I would be tempted to take on as a pro se (acting as my own attorney) action.

    Every time that I move, except when I move overseas, I need to register with the Direct Marketing Association to turn off the charitable donation requests and the Do Not Call list (which has an exception for charities) and the number to opt out of preapproved credit card requests. I keep the dimes that the March of Dimes mails to me in an effort to guilt me into donating. The address labels that they send are ugly.

    Don’t feel bad about the attempts of people to manuipulate you to a course of action. Should they point out that you were able to attend the college only because someone else donated, tell them that they made that choice freely, and that you are making the choice not to donate equally freely. The marginal value of college education declines daily, even in technical fields. I suspect that the proposal will cost them millions in alumni donations because it makes the board of trustees look greedy.

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