You might not think of it this way, but you should value your college diploma like a share of stock. Graduates should want to see their alma maters grow in stature, and one way to help out is by giving back. Unfortunately, not enough alumni are giving back to their colleges these days -- and it shows.
Giving back with our money and our time helps support the next generation of students and alumni. When we give back to our colleges, that money goes toward research, scholarships, and new facilities, among other things. It helps increase the stature of the college, making it a better place. Our giving back also affects how employers, grad schools and others see our alma maters.
'Giving Back' Doesn't Have to Mean Money
We often forget that our time is valuable and can be almost as important as any donation we make to our alma maters. Human capital is just as beneficial to the sustained vitality of a university and can be just as important, if not more, than purely financial support. Colleges and universities need both.
When we give back to our alma maters, we get a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we're furthering the aims of the institution that did so much to educate us and give us a better life.
Alumni typically give back to their schools in proportion to their own gratitude and success. There may be a correlation to poor giving and the realization that our undergraduate degree directly led to a portion of our success.
But should this always be the case? One reason that colleges don't enjoy higher alumni giving is that their graduates often fail to connect the dots of their success to their alma mater.
Giving Back Makes Us Sharper, Too
Education is a never-ending process. We continue to learn even after we graduate. And nothing is often more apparent than when we give back to our alma maters.
Rebecca Stilwell is president of O'More College of Design and a former managing director with Morgan Stanley. "I heard one of our best professors say that he loves teaching because it makes him sharper in his field," she says. "It keeps him current. And every great teacher will say they get more out of teaching than the students."
What better way to stay relevant, sharp, and challenged than to spend time with your alma mater?
Giving Back Helps Your Own Reputation
Helping improve the stature of our alma maters can have a second- and third-order effect on our own lives and the perceived value of our own college diploma.
Whether it's giving our money or our time, we should all want to see our alma maters thrive. Doing so can only help our own lot in life.
"We all want to make the world a better place," Shari Fox, executive vice president of O'More College of Design. "By sharing our time and talent and money with colleges, we do a bit of good and can even change lives by helping a worthy student earn a college education."
Karma and Networking
It's hard to pinpoint where success comes from in our working lives. What about karma? Should that factor into our giving back? And how much does networking through our alma maters play into it?
"[Colleges] need mentors for juniors and seniors and graduate students,"
What about networking with the next generation? Giving back to your alma mater can also help you increase your own network, and there's no better place to start than with the students and alumni of your alma mater.
"You should help your fellow alumni with whatever expertise or connections you can reasonably offer," says Hook. "You'll often get the same in return, and you may even become a recognized resource back at the school, which would open up a whole other wave of new contacts for you."
Are You Giving Back to Your Alma Mater?
Many of the benefits you get from college are intangible, and the things you give back aren't always easy to measure. But one thing is clear: America's colleges and universities today are in desperate need of both financial support and volunteer assistance from their alumni. And giving back now can provide you with dividends for years to come.
Hank Coleman is a financial planner and the publisher of the popular personal finance blog Money Q&A, where he answers readers' tough money questions. Follow him on Twitter @MoneyQandA.