Investing in future of higher education

According to recent data from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Atlantans give approximately 4 percent of their income to charity, ranking it as the fourth-most generous among large metropolitan areas. Even during the recent recession, Atlanta remained true to its philanthropic heritage by ensuring help was available to those who needed it the most.

In 2013, education was the recipient of the largest giving increase of all charitable sectors in the U.S. While that is good news for institutions like Spelman College, this validates the critical role higher education has in cultivating intellectuals and the next generation of philanthropists.

Interestingly, The Chronicle of Philanthropy data reveals that middle-class Americans increased their share of income given to charity, even if they were making less than they were before the recession. National statistics show that for many organizations, mid-level donors are increasingly a larger portion of annual donors; we’ve found this to be true at Spelman.

Earlier this year, Spelman announced that it exceeded its comprehensive fund-raising campaign goal, generating $157.8 million. This is the largest amount raised in the history of the institution. The campaign attracted support for scholarships, academic initiatives and campus renewal. Of the more than 18,000 campaign donors, a record-breaking 12,000 alumnae made a gift to the campaign.

What do these trends mean for our future?

With this much growth in foundational giving among middle-income donors, the need for a thriving, philanthropic middle class is clear. As an all-women’s, historically black college, Spelman is producing the next generation of philanthropists by transforming student lives and equipping graduates to transform their communities and the world.

Half of our student population is Pell-Grant eligible, a high number compared to other selective, private liberal arts colleges. Additionally, just as many of our students are first-generation college attendees. At 76 percent, our six-year average graduation rate is well above the national average of 50 percent for first-generation students.

DFor several years in a row, Washington Monthly has ranked Spelman among the top 10 schools for social mobility, meaning our students gain advantages earlier generations didn’t have. College graduates are predicted to earn one million dollars more than high school graduates over a lifetime.

According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, African-Americans are inclined to give a higher percentage of their income (25 percent more per year) to charities than other races. Nearly two-thirds of African-American households make charitable donations.

Institutions that prepare students to earn financial independence and amplify a disposition for giving through intentional student programming are laying the foundation for the future of giving in this country. At Spelman, that effort begins when a student walks on campus. She is greeted by women who came before her through a series of co-curricular activities, including formal alumnae mentoring programs.

Our students are routinely engaged in fundraising efforts for their community and college. For example, each year seniors are asked to give in honor of their graduation year. Seniors who participate receive a special tassel and are recognized at their final convocation at Spelman. We place emphasis on the importance of alumnae giving through the Every Woman, Every Year campaign that has catapulted alumnae participation from 16 percent to 41 percent in just seven years.

The histories of Atlanta and Spelman College are intertwined. We don’t believe it is by accident that our community continues to be among the most generous when it comes to giving to others. We have intentionally fostered altruism – among Spelman students, faculty and alumnae.

Investing in higher education is key to growing the middle class and building future generations of philanthropists. As each of us seek out organizations and causes to support in the years to come, that’s a lesson worth taking to heart.

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Kassandra Jolley is vice president for institutional advancement at Spelman College.