Report: Major Disparities in College Contributions

By Free Radical

Bennett College was recently saved from being closed by raising more than $8 million. This amount is miniscule to some of the nation's wealthest colleges.

Bennett College was recently saved from closure by raising more than $8 million. This amount is miniscule to some of the nation’s wealthest colleges.

As growing wealth inequality has been an ever-present feature of American society, the nation’s higher education system has followed this pattern.

New data from the Voluntary Support for Education Survey, published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, show that twenty colleges account for 28% of all higher education donations. Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia all raked in over $1 billion, though collectively they only educate less than twenty thousand students.

The level of altruistic inequality was magnified as Bennett College, an all-women’s HBCU in Greensboro, North Carolina, had to recently launch a massive campaign to raise $5 million dollars just to keep its doors open. Though Bennett’s ability to raise more than $8 million was widely celebrated, even this amount is mere crumbs compared to the endowments of America’s richest universities.

“Large charitable donations to the richest schools is essentially the endpoint of a cycle that rewards wealth every step along the way,” said Ben Miller, the senior director of Postsecondary Education at the Center for American Progress.

A small cohort of select universities often draws its enrollment largely from the nation’s wealthiest families. Graduates have access to some of the most lucrative jobs in the world. They in turn have the resources to make disproportionately large donations to their alma maters. To some critics, it can often be a closed system.

Some, however, argue that huge donations to select colleges can have a trickle-down effect in society as these institutions are responsible for cutting edge research developments that extend beyond their campuses. Jonathan Meer, an economist at Texas A&M University considered, “If let’s say three decades from now [a major donation] leads to a cure for malaria or cancer treatment with a three-day course of pills, I think it would be very difficult to argue that that money maybe should have gone to a more immediate cause.”

Nonetheless, if only these universities continue to receive the lion’s share of donations, other institutions will never have the chance to make similar discoveries and their student bodies, who tend to be much more diverse, will remain a rich source of potential that is largely untapped.

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