I’ve long argued that you can’t understand the contentious topic of college admissions without understanding which type of alumni are more likely to donate to their dear old alma maters.
In 2011, I read about a man in the metal bending business donating $200 million to USC:
David Dornsife is Chairman of the Board of the Herrick Corporation, a California based steel fabrication company, and its subsidiaries. A 1965 graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business, he was a shot-putter on the University’s track team that won two national championships.
David Dornsife’s parents, Harold and Ester, were USC alumni and longtime supporters of their alma mater. The elder Dornsifes gave the lead gift for the HEDCO Neuroscience Building, which helped establish USC’s position as a pioneering and important leader in the emerging field of neuroscience. Dornsife’s mother, Ester, a pre-med major in the College, maintained a lifelong interest in the medical field, and in particular its neuroscience program.
At USC, he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity.
I believe several of his children have gone to USC as well. And he donates to Republican candidates.
In other words, the kind of guy who is most likely to someday write a $200 million to his alma mater is exactly the type of chad bro—a white man, jock, frat boy, Republican, legacy, father of legacies, business major—that is most hated by the academic establishment. But they can’t do without his ability to make huge piles of money and his loyal generosity.
I then got a comment by somebody who claimed, credibly, to have done statistical modeling for a famous university’s development office. He said I was right on the money.
Since then I’ve been looking for an academic study of who donates to their colleges. I’ve finally found one:
Here’s a 2009 study by two economists, one from Princeton and one from Stanford, of an unnamed top research university’s development office database of 32,000 alumni who graduated from 1972-2005.
Which college? Average SAT score of alumni is 1400 (in post 1995 scoring). 13% of alumni went to high school at a boarding school. And it was all-male “until the 1970s,” So it’s probably Princeton (or Yale, both of which went coed in 1969).
By Jonathan Meer and Harvey S. Rosen*
We study alumni contributions to an anonymous research university. If alumni believe donations will increase the likelihood of their child’s admission, and if this belief helps motivate their giving, then the pattern of giving should vary systematically with the ages of their children, whether the children ultimately apply to the university, and the admissions outcome. We call this pattern the child cycle of alumni giving. The evidence is consistent with the child-cycle pattern. Thus, while altruism drives some giving, the hope for a reciprocal benefit also plays a role. We compute rough estimates of the proportion of giving due to selfish motives. (JEL D91, D64, I21) …
Represented here are 32,488 alumni who graduated from 1972 to 2005. …
As is typically the case, a few relatively large gifts account for a disproportionate amount of Anon U’s donations. For example, in 2006, the top 1 percent of gifts accounted for 69.2 percent of total giving. … . For example, the three largest gifts in our sample are $3.1 million, $6 million, and $31.1 million.
The problem is that the researchers are scared of the tiny sample size of huge donors, even though they are of greatest interest to universities. So the paper focuses on likelihood of donation per year, even though at this hyper-loyal college with the most famous reunions, an incredible 56% of alumni donate each year.
Table 1 shows that about 55.6 percent of the giving opportunities result in a donation to the university. Relative to other schools, this is a high participation rate. Indeed, Anon U is at the edge of the right tail with respect to the proportion of alumni who make contributions
The authors are mostly interested in the question of altruism and show that alumni parents ramp up their donations to their alma mater while their child is applying and especially after their child is accepted by Dear Old Princeton (or Yale). On the other hand if their kid is rejected, screw you, Princeton.
While 59% of the alumni’s children apply for admission, 41% are accepted. But the parents of the unaccepted kids are not pleased.
The oldest child’s rejection reduces the amount given by 14.5 percent (imprecisely estimated), while the second child’s rejection reduces the amount given by a statistically significant 39 percent. The first and second child’s acceptances increase the amount given by 134 percent and 118 percent, respectively, and both figures are statistically significant.
But I’m more interested in who donates to colleges by demographic groups:
For example, in our basic model, being an economics major
I.e., a Republican who wants to work on Wall Street
increases the amount of giving by about 85 percent. Once we take occupation into account, however, this figure drops to 37 percent. In part, the coefficient in the basic model reflects the fact that Anon U’s economics majors are particularly likely to go into the field of finance which, by itself, increases the amount of giving by about 75 percent, ceteris paribus.
Then they redo the analysis with alumni going all the way back to 1914 (for whom they don’t have SAT scores):
The results are reported in Table A1. The coefficients on the linear and quadratic terms for years since graduation imply that the probability of making a gift falls for about the first 20 years after graduation, and then turns upward. With respect to gender, men are 4.6 percentage points less likely to donate in a given year, ceteris paribus.
Interesting, but I’d like to see this evaluated on amount donated rather than merely whether you donate.
Whites are more likely to contribute than American Indians, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians.
My anecdotal impression is that South Asians are pretty generous toward educational institutions, while East Asians are not. But I could be wrong.
The gap is largest with African Americans, who are 16 percentage points less likely to make a gift than are whites. These gender and ethnic/racial differentials are similar to those reported in previous studies (Monks 1993). Alumni who attended boarding or private schools are somewhat more likely to contribute than those who attended public schools. There is no discernible impact of home or alternative schooling on the probability of giving relative to public school attendees.
As noted above, the admissions office produces summary evaluations of applicants on the basis of both academic and nonacademic criteria, such as musical talent, athletic ability, volunteer work, and so on. An A is the highest score and an E is the lowest score. Alumni who received the lowest nonacademic ratings at the time of admissions are 6.9 percentage points less likely to make donations. On the other hand, students in the highest academic category are somewhat less likely to make donations than those with lower ratings. SAT scores do not appear to have any statistically significant impact on the probability of giving.
Eggheads aren’t that loyal but lower scoring people who got in because somebody favored them are more generous.
We now turn from variables that are known before matriculation at Anon U to those that reflect the alumnus’s undergraduate experiences. Involvement in a varsity sport increases the probability of giving by about 5 percentage points, and membership in one of Anon U’s fraternities or sororities increases giving by 13 percentage points. These results are consistent with previous findings that students who were actively engaged in extracurricular activities as undergraduates are more likely to make donations as alumni (Dugan et al. 1999). With respect to academic performance, receiving honors has no effect on the probability of giving. However, the probability of giving increases with grade point average (GPA). Those in the bottom quartile of the GPA distribution were 5.7 percentage points less likely to make a gift, while those in the third quartile were 2.1 percentage points less likely. There is no significant difference in giving between the second and top quartiles. Consistent with earlier studies, giving patterns differ substantially by course of study (Dugan, et al. 1999, Monks 2003). Alumni who majored in engineering, economics, and public policy have relatively high probabilities of making a gift later in life. Those who majored in the small social sciences (such as sociology) and small humanities departments (such as linguistics) tend to have relatively low probabilities of making a gift later in life. Students with minors in finance are more likely to make subsequent gifts (by about 9 percentage points), while those with minors in theater are less likely (by about 7 percentage points).
Note that the biggest increase in likelihood to donate is becoming an MBA, followed by earning a law degree, spouse is an alumni too, belonging to a fraternity/sorority, and doctors, then small engineering majors, finance minors, American studies majors (Tom Wolfe earned his Ph.D. in American studies at Yale), and econ majors.
The worst traits for being a donor are being black, Hispanic, Asian, a theater major, and having the lowest “nonacademic” rating.
Turning to schooling after Anon U, alumni who continue their education are more likely to make donations than those who do not, a finding consistent with previous studies (Dugan et al., 1999, Monks 2003). Finally, we note that, consistent with previous research (James H. Grant and David L. Lindauer 1986, Olsen, Smith, and Wunnava 1989) the likelihood of giving increases substantially during reunion years, with the probability increasing by 6.3 percentage points.
In other words, to get more donations, you want to admit Republican Chad Bros.
Keep in mind that they are just measuring propensity to be a donor per year at a college where 88% of grads are likely to be donors over their lifetimes. (Princetonians tend to love Princeton. E.g., Republican Secretary of State George Schultz had a Princeton Tiger tattoo.)
My guess would be that the really big donors tend to be even more skewed toward the Chad Bro demographic.