Private Colleges: Philanthropies?

In an era of increasing competition from for-profit colleges, and facing heightened regulatory scrutiny, institutions with selfless motives and service missions would be wise to find their voices and make their intentions clear.

This quote in Dick Merriman’s “The College as a Philanthropy” got me thinking. I went to a private college, whose mission was far more service oriented than most univerisities. I also teach now at a community college whose mission IS to serve the underprivileged community that the school is in.

I have not seen as much of the consumer mentality at my college as I saw at the community college in the outer circle of Houston which serves the more affluent suburbs. Yet that college, too, is predicated on service. This is not the service of McDonald’s either. The college isn’t there so you can drive up and get your degree. (Note: I had not finished the article and did not realize he discusses Mickey Ds. I have worked at a McD’s and I know that sometimes I get the same attitude from my students as I got from my customers.)

The community colleges exist to make available a college education to those who might not otherwise get such an education, even in the rich outlying burgs.

The private college exists to create more of the people who created it so they can serve the community through their identification.

Merriman says it amazingly well.

The college is a philanthropy, an expression of love and esteem for humankind.

This college exists as a philanthropy because thousands of people, many of whom you and I will never know, have built it over the past 125 years. They built it for your benefit, knowing they would never meet you. The college’s facilities, our endowment for scholarships, our mission—all of these have been built, and protected and sustained, for your benefit. They were built so you can gain a college education, find and pursue your passion, and commit yourselves to living a valuable life. In short, this college exists so you can become a better person and, in turn, help make the world a better place.

None of you, not even that very rare student who receives no financial aid from the college, will come close to paying what it is going to cost the college to educate you. You know what? That’s OK. That’s not a problem. In fact, that is the whole idea. Because you are not a customer, and the college is not a business. This college is a philanthropy, and we have a marvelous gift to give you—a far better education than you can afford, and the opportunity to work with people who truly care about you—and we are able to give this gift to you because of the financial support of thousands of alumni and friends and because the college’s people have committed themselves to you.

Yes. That’s what a college is for.

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