February 27, 2014
Since its founding in 2012, STOP Day has quickly become a Hamilton tradition. Thanks to the efforts of students and administrators, the message of the STOP campaign now holds a firm place in the Hamilton lexicon: Our generous alumni deserve thanks for financing around one-third of the cost of attending Hamilton for a year. Without such generosity from our donors, even students whose families can afford full tuition would find themselves paying up to $10,000 more per year to match the same experience.
To put the “alumni subsidy” in concrete terms, consider the following numbers: Around 240 students conducted research last summer—and even more recieved summer internship funding. Around 50 percent of students receive financial aid, with an average package of $36,500. 31 percent of all classes have nine or fewer students—and almost 75 percent have 19 or fewer. All of these extraordinary aspects of Hamilton life are, in a large part, the result of nearly 9,000 alumni donations (48 percent of our 18,000 alumni, making Hamilton alumni some of the most generous in the country).
Yet, some still object to the celebration of this day by noting that, even with half of our alumni giving money to the school year after year, tuition continues to rise relentlessly. For example, despite living in an era of low inflation, this year’s class of seniors paid $51,760 for tuition, required fees, and room and board in 2010, but $57,790 for that same cost in 2014. If we cut superfluous programs, dumped the least popular majors and stopped building a new facility each year, this line of thinking goes, we could all have lower tuition and still benefit from alumni gifts. In other words, by focusing all on the revenues generated by alumni and not at all on the persistent uptick in expenses, STOP Day misses the forest for the trees.
While there is some truth to the current “college arms race” of competing on more-and-more extravagant facilities rather than on value-focused academic education, the aforementioned argument is lacking. For one, one student’s “waste of money” is another student’s favorite part of the Hill; a math major who leads Adirondack Adventure trips naturally has different needs than a sociology major who plays field hockey—and that’s a good thing and part of what makes Hamilton a great school.
In addition, college tuition continues to rise across the nation, not because Hamilton or equivalent NESCAC schools throw around unnecessary amounts of money, but because of more systematic factors: increasing demand for higher education, competition for keeping superior professors and a greater emphasis on offering financial aid to talented students. Hamilton’s decision to go need-blind in 2010, for example, cost more money, but few students would desire to return to the less-meritocratic system that existed before.
An elite college education like Hamilton’s remains worth the cost. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, for Hamilton, the average 30 year net return on investment is $1.03 million, a 6.2 percent annualized return on a four-year tuition of $213,900.
Regardless of whether you pay full tuition or not, or whether you believe the College wastes money or not, the reality is that over 9,000 individuals choose to give part of their hard-earned income to Hamilton each year. These millions of dollars—$6.6 million to the annual fund in one year alone—represent a belief in Hamilton’s mission and, in turn, aid us in achieving our goals. A brief handwritten card is the least we can offer in gratitude. Who knows, a few years down the road, you might find yourself receiving a STOP postcard in the mail, too.