Associations Between Higher Education Sustainability and Alumni Giving
AbstractRemaking higher education campuses to meet climate commitments will have real and significant costs, yet many campuses are financially constrained. For most institutions, alumni giving is a significant, yet declining, source of funding. This leads to a question of whether the presence of climate and sustainability programs might impact alumni giving. To address this question, this research examined two hypotheses predicting how campus sustainability programs might impact alumni giving rates. First, that year on year changes in the level of sustainability assessment metrics are correlated with year on year changes in alumni participation rate, a measure of giving. Second, that allowing online donors the option of restricting their gifts for “sustainability,” “environment,” or “green” purposes is correlated with a higher alumni participation rate.
To test these hypotheses, new and existing data were used. Alumni participation rates of American higher education institutions for the years 2007-2017 were obtained from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Concurrent data came from two sustainability assessment programs, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Ratings System (STARS) and the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools. New data on options for restricted giving was collected as part of this research for institutions represented in the CASE dataset.
Sustainability assessment data from both of the programs considered were analyzed in three ways. A Spearman rank correlation showed that the Cool Schools metrics were comparatively volatile from year to year while the STARS metrics exhibited less change from year to year. Linear regression analysis found no statistically significant correlations between changes in annual alumni participation rates and changes in the two sustainability assessment metrics on either a present or lagging basis (STARS n= 74, Cool Schools n=129). This was true for both individual institutions and the overall data set.
Paired t-tests were used to compare the mean alumni giving rates for the subsets of institutions that did and did not allow restricted giving for any of the three hypothesized options. The institutions that allowed restricted online giving for “sustainability” had mean giving rates that were 41% higher than that of those that did not (p < 0.05). This contrasted with institutions allowing restrictions for “environmental” or “green” purposes; the observed differences in their mean giving rates were not statistically significant.
These results could offer higher education institutions direction on which sustainability-related paths are most likely to increase their alumni participation rate. The lack of correlation between giving rates and sustainability assessment metrics mean institutions may need to consider if alumni could be unaware of sustainability metrics or if such metrics may not resonate with alumni. In contrast, the analysis of allowing restricted giving for sustainability suggests a simple and single change institutions could consider implementing to potentially increase their giving rates. While this finding has caveats that it only considered one year of data and is not able to show causation, it implies that alumni giving rates might be increased by introducing the option for online donors to give to sustainability initiatives.
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