Tuition free day: it’s not just about the dollar

Live it up, Eastern University.

From now on, all operations and costs for the school year are covered by alumni and outside gifts, not from current students’ tuitions. In fact, tuition only provides about 84 percent of education costs, making gifts from alumni, parents, businesses, faculty and friends extremely important.

To celebrate and show appreciation for the alumni and the $3,205 each student “saves” from their giving, March 21 was declared the first ever “Tuition Free Day.”

During the day, which marked the first day of the year covered by gifts, students enjoyed “celebration cake” and participated in a trivia competition for the chance to win one of two $25 gift certificates to the bookstore.

Students also had the opportunity to sign a large thank-you card for the class of ’57. The card will be on display at the class’s fiftieth reunion later this year.

Mary Gardner, director of the office of alumni relations, said that the day’s purpose was to raise student awareness about how others have helped pay for their education and are continuing to do so.

“As a student, or even when called for the phone-a-thon, I never realized that alumni were helping to pay for my tuition,” Gardner said. “The whole mission is to raise awareness.”

The idea for the celebration day came from a trustee-funded research trip that members of the alumni office took last year, visiting eight schools similar to Eastern that had the top amounts of alumni giving.

“We went to see what they were doing, and every single school was having a day to celebrate and raise awareness,” Gardner said. “It sounded like an easy, fun event.”

These alumni gifts fund a majority of the scholarships students receive, as well as the Student Aid Fund, which is completely sponsored by alumni.

The “free” percentage of the year is a combination of the scholarship gifts as well as other general donations. Last year, alumni gave over $400,000 to help Eastern and current students, according to Gardner.

However, while alumni gifts are a huge financial part of Eastern, the dollar amount is not the most important thing.

“It’s not about the dollar, but about the participation,” Gardner said. “It’s not about how much, but how many. If our [alumni participation] percentage is at a certain level, other funds and churches will give as well.”

“The only way to know if the day was successful in raising the percentage is to see if ‘Tuition Free Day’ is earlier next year,” Gardner said.

In addition, college rankings from the U.S. World & News Report are based on how many alumni give, not on the amount they give, to invest in their alma mater, according to Gardner.

If the participation percentage of all alumni goes up, Eastern’s ranking and reputation will grow as well, in turn adding to the value of an Eastern diploma.

“Alumni have the power to change the future of Eastern,” Gardner said.

The best part is that no gift is too small. Since the focus is participation, all gifts, no matter what size, can help to raise Eastern’s status. The average alumni gift amount last year was only $25.

According to Gardner, there are two main reasons alumni do not give gifts. They think that it does not matter and that they would not be able to give a large enough amount to make a difference.

Gardner hopes that through Tuition Free Day, these reasons for not donating will be seen as misunderstandings and that students will realize that any and all gifts can help.

Declining alumni support has become a huge issue nationally among colleges as well.

According to the 2006 annual survey of college fundraising from the Council for Aid to Education, the national percentage was only 12.4 percent in 2005 and is steadily declining.

Experts are emphasizing the fact that colleges need to begin building alumni bodies and loyalty, which becomes just as powerful as funds.

“It’s not the dollar,” Gardner said. “If [students] don’t get that, the whole day is a failure.”

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