I spent a semester of my freshman year as one of the university’s worst telemarketers. We were — to accept the Trojan patronym — ’SCallers, and for four to eight hours a day, we called USC alumni to ask for money.
There are scores of benefits to alumni donations besides the obvious influx of cash, and if needed I can still rattle them off enthusiastically without the help of the bullet-pointed lists we used:
Alumni donations are criteria included in our national ranking — donating can retroactively improve the value of a degree.
Given USC’s recent push to recruit bright students with merit-based scholarships, donating helps improve the caliber of each year’s graduating class.
Donations are also tax-deductible and, because of a professed wish to go green, can be processed by most major credit cards over the phone.
The list goes on.
I was a bad ’SCaller because I much preferred taking “No” for an answer than flipping through the tome-like script and explaining why even a donation of $5 helped — it was a laborious, getting-blood-out-of-a-stone process if alumni didn’t want to donate right away.
There were many points at which their answers forced me to ad lib, through which I was inadvertently introduced to a whole new dialogue of economic terminology.
It was at the ’SCallers program, for example, that I learned the meaning of “subprime mortgage crisis.”
University telemarketers across the country have felt the tightening of the money belt, which have caused donations to plummet nationwide.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that, after rising 4.1 percent a year for a decade, contributions to more than 1,000 American colleges dropped by 11.9 percent in 2009.
For public universities, donations can be the antidote for decreased government support. At private universities such as USC, donations can keep financial aid buoyant at a time when families need it most, according to The New York Times.
USC’s donations have kept fairly stable during the economic upheaval. A Council for Aid to Education poll found that USC ranked seventh highest in donations in 2009, at almost $369 million raised (we were beat out by four Ivies, Stanford and Johns Hopkins.)
Though USC alumni are weathering the storm, USC has by no means been immune to financial upset. Our endowment took a hefty hit last year — one of the largest in American universities, the Daily Trojan reported in February — dropping 25.6 percent.
During all the turmoil, university officials must decide where to allocate the money earned by each year’s donations. And though some alumni decide for the university — George Lucas wasn’t about to let his $175 million go to revamping the tennis courts — USC receives many open-ended donations.
The university has enjoyed several large gifts of late — $50 million for a new Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism building and $50 million for an endowment for cancer research. These are exciting improvements for USC, and let’s face it — anyone donating that much is going to make sure he knows where every penny is going.
At a time when USC’s current and future students are facing as much economic hardship as the university’s endowment, the best way to ensure that USC’s stature continues to grow is to invest in recruiting the best students.
More money should be going toward financial aid and merit-based scholarships. The only way to maintain a legacy of constant improvement is ensuring that the best and the brightest have the ability to join USC when the time comes.
The university’s smaller donors, who don’t designate the exact recipients of their money on forms, should think about assigning their money to scholarship funds. (As a one-time ’SCaller, I can vouch for the fact that USC does provide an easy-to-use avenue to direct personal donations.)
As for the donations that come in unassigned, USC needs to place an emphasis on scholarships at this juncture — not multi-million dollar athletic complexes or food courts.
Lucy Mueller is a senior majoring in cinema-television production and managing editor for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Everything is Copy,” runs Mondays.