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Do You Give Money to Your Alma Mater?

holiday donations

Since almost a third of charitable contributions happen in December, it’s no wonder our mailboxes and inboxes are full of pleas this holiday season. I get it. I’ve served on nonprofit boards in the past, and I know first hand how much end of year donations mean for next year’s funding. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have the ability to give back to a variety of organizations, but one place I’ve never given a penny to is the universities I’ve attended. Do you give money to your Alma Mater?

I have no issue with either of the higher education institutions that educated me and laid the foundation for my career. My undergraduate work was at Western Kentucky University, a medium sized, state school that is actually in the south central part of Kentucky. Western was kind enough to give me a full ride through college which allowed me to come out of undergrad debt free.

Southern College of Optometry traded a doctorate degree in exchange for $60,000 in student loans. I actually don’t regret borrowing that money, although I probably could have gotten by on less.

Obviously, SCO prepares students pretty well because they have had a zero percent default rate on student loans for the past 18 years. I’d sure hate to be the poor schmuck who breaks the streak!

Why Don’t I Give Back to My Alma Mater?

I don’t really have a reason  not to give to WKU other than it doesn’t seem like the most needy place for the money I have available for charity donations. Western is a Division I school, so they get decent money from athletics, and tuition is high enough that the university doesn’t seem to be in dire straits.

Shameful Confession: I Hold Grudges

I do actually have a reason for not giving money to SCO, and I’ll admit, it’s pretty petty. It all goes back to the days when I was graduating and applying for residency.  I really wanted to stay local, but I applied for residency slots elsewhere as well. I was offered a position in another state but turned it down because the residency director in Memphis told me I was second in line for the spot I thought I wanted.

Their first choice was actually a classmate, and I knew he was going to another school. The job should have been mine, but they ended up offering it to a person who didn’t even submit an application. I took it fairly personally at the time, but now I understand that’s just how things work. However, I feel the director should have been upfront and told me I didn’t have shot. I swore right then and there that I’d never give a penny to SCO.

In hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened as I ended up taking a residency position with the Indian Health Service. That decision has paid me back in spades many times over, but I still haven’t felt the need to open my wallet for SCO.

Fund a Wing or Send a Kid to College?

I’ve never even been tempted to donate money to a college until I got a recent mailer about the retirement of one of my favorite instructors from optometry school. The college wants to name a wing after him but needs X amount of donations to make it happen. I was all ready to send a check until I got donation requests from the local humane society and my former high school’s scholarship fund.

I can’t do it all, and it seems the local charities have won out yet again. Somehow, I think my alma maters will survive without my support. I can’t say the same for the homeless pets in my hometown. I also can’t forget how helpful scholarship money was my education and in showing me that there is more to life than the town I grew up in.

With donations to local organizations, I know where 100% of my money goes. I’m sure money donated to larger places would be put to good use, but I won’t know the person it helped or if I’m paying for someone to research the sleep cycle of cockroaches.

So while I really hope the school does name a wing after my professor, they will have to do it without my monetary support.

Do you donate money to your alma mater? 


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I work in non profit fundraising so I know the importance of giving to charity. HOWEVER, I don’t give to my undergrad because I saw how much they’ve increased tuition. In the 12 years since I started my freshman year, tuition has increased 125%, far exceeding the rate of inflation. Until they get their tuition in check, I won’t give them a dime. And I want to support them because I got a lot of aid and had great professors. But it’s ridiculous to support an organization that can’t keep their finances in check.

    So like you, I give locally—we give to our volunteer fire department, our local community radio station, and other neighborhood charities. I also give to Wikipedia because I use them all the time and they guilt me into donating with their website headers every year, lol.

    • I do feel bad sometimes because of all the scholarship money I received, but I feel just as you do about how most universities are run.

  2. While I am a part of the alumni club of my alma mater, which did require money given to the alumni club, we don’t give to mine or Nicole’s alma mater (I believe her parents got her a lifetime alumni membership when she graduated). Neither of our schools are hurting – in fact we went to an alumni event here in Omaha last month and got to hear all about what’s going on on campus and they’re obviously not hurting. I feel so much more good can be done by giving to local organizations, and those that we care about, as opposed to a school that has piles of cash.

  3. We don’t give to our alma maters. For me, I know that one of the schools is private and doing just fine. The other is a state run school (at which I was also a full-time IT employee for a few years) and makes a mess of its finances. The tuition keeps going up, but that rarely makes it back to employees. They’re lucky if they get a 1% raise every three or four years.

    My wife also went to one private and one public school. We still owe a little on her first student loans (less than $5700 to go. Yay!) and have told the fund-raisers that we won’t give a penny as long as the loan exists.

    I also agree that I’d much rather my donations go to a local charity where I can see my money get put to use. Think global, act local. Right?

    • I’ve known several people who are employed by universities and they seem to get worse job benefits and stability than in public school districts. Agreed universities should manage their money better.

  4. I have not given money to either of the colleges I’ve graduated from. I receive several phone calls from one of them each month but I don’t see me giving money to them.

  5. We used to. One reason we saw the level of people that were graduating from there (out of state)after us (some came to work where we did) and our employer would match our donation. But when our daughter started getting close to going to college and instead decided to go to a different college we stopped donating.

    • That is another reason we don’t donate. We are currently trying to save up for our daughter’s college education. It seems counterproductive to donate money to a college and then have her take out loans.

  6. Yes I do. I give something to my alma mater whenever I visit. Though it’s a small of money, I think it could help send a scholar to school. It’s not about how big it is, but even a small amount can go a long way.

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