Recently I was contacted by an old college classmate to donate to our 15th reunion at The College of William & Mary. He told me our reunion fundraising goal was $500,000 and we’re at about $323,000.
I told him, “Sure, no problem,” and proceeded to forget about the pledge until I got the gift request in the mail. The solicitation gave me the options of giving $19.99, $50, $100, $250, $500, Other, or a 5-year pledge of $X. Payment methods included credit card, check, or donating directly online with the option of designating where my gift will go. Nice job making it easy for alumni to give guys.
I was all ready to write a check for $200, when I started thinking back to my interactions with my classmate. We studied abroad together in Beijing in 1997 and I remember him hooking up with a girl right after I had hooked up with her a month earlier while we were still in Virginia! The girl and my ex and him were all going to Beijing. It made for a somewhat awkward situation where our small study abroad group ended up being dividend into two groups: 1) the super cool group, and 2) the not so cool group (his group and the girl of course).
By the time we landed in Beijing, I had already made amends with my ex-girlfriend, so it’s not like I was jealous or angry of my classmate for messing around with this other girl. It was just weird as can be – like a love trapezoid. As a young man, you’re trained to emotionally move on quickly or else. Think back to your college days when it was just one big love fest. You don’t recall? Hmm. Maybe it was just us then.
Anyway, thanks to the wrong reunion co-chair contacting me, I’m not so sure if I should give anything at all. Instead, I’d rather spend an hour writing this fun post and discuss the topic with all of you.
GIVING BACK TO YOUR ALMA MATER
I absolutely loved my time at The College of William & Mary. For $2,800 a year, the education was an absolute steal in the mid-to-late 90s. Most people outside of Virginia think William & Mary is a private school given its small undergraduate size (~5,000), its solid academic reputation, and its history as the second oldest university in the nation (established in 1693). The campus is absolutely gorgeous and I couldn’t be a prouder alumni.
As a liberal arts school, William & Mary gave me the well-rounded education that’s needed in today’s ultra-competitive job market where who you know is often more important that what you know. When I was interviewing other candidates at Goldman, I remember us specifically looking for candidates who excelled in fields other than finance. We wanted to hire history majors, art majors, economics majors, athletes, pre-med students, international relations majors, and so forth who showed an interest in finance. Coming in with a finance major, although useful, didn’t carry much weight because we were already experts in finance. We wanted diverse minds.
We all know that getting a engineering or computer science degree are great majors for finding starting high paying jobs. Engineering majors make a starting salary of around $65,000, 30% higher than the national median starting college salary. The debate of studying engineering lies in the upside potential for such graduates as they might get pigeon holed. Over 50% of my Berkeley MBA class were engineers who wanted to get out of their jobs because their incomes were capped as “blue collar engineer soldiers.” They couldn’t get on the more exciting and lucrative management track so they went back to school.
By minoring in Chinese, majoring in Economics, studying abroad, and taking classes in religion, history, communications, math, science and golf, I felt like I was much more prepared to assimilate in the real world. I didn’t know how to solve complex math problems in my head or build robots, but I did know how to get along with people well. Most of your practical skills will be taught on the job anyway. Don’t underestimate the value of good social skills because people want to work with people they like.
Besides giving me the tools to function in a competitive environment, William & Mary also kept me and my parents out student debt. They put aside money each year since I was a kid for my college education, and I ended up not even spending 50% of what they saved.
I believe it’s better for high school students to attend smaller universities for undergrad and bigger universities for graduate school. The transition from being a restricted high school student to an absolutely free college student is a dangerous one. If you’ve been a sheltered nerd all your life in high school, it’s easy to go crazy in college and get in a lot of trouble. A smaller university helps put the pressure on students to be better members of the community. You also learn more with a smaller faculty to student ratio. When more people know more people, there’s a smaller chance of students getting left behind.
For grad school, go to the biggest overall school possible to take advantage of the alumni network. The graduate program within the large university will still be small and intimate so you get the best of both worlds. People tend to gravitate towards and take care of people more similar to them. If you’re the only Yale grad among a pool of Berkeley candidates in San Francisco, you’re going to have a much harder time getting the job.
There’s not a lot of weight on the West Coast for The College of William & Mary because there’s so few of us. But that’s OK because I’m no longer looking for a full-time job any more. But it’s nice to know that if I go back to the East Coast for work, perhaps I’ll get a little more recognition.
LET’S SUPPORT PUBLIC SCHOOLS
I am a big proponent of attending public schools because it costs much less than private schools and the quality of education at many public schools is excellent. I went to private school for 13 years overseas and then public school for 11 years, and I didn’t really notice the difference in education. What I did notice was that there were a lot more rich kids attending private schools. Going to private school is NOT a reflection of society at large.
There is a massive student loan crisis right now that needs to be solved. If it’s not, we’re going to have a lost generation of folks who launch years later and retire years later as well. One easy solution to reducing student debt is to just spend less on a college education, especially since the internet is making education cheaper or free. Check out Kahn Academy, Mooks, and MIT online courses as examples of free education. Of course there are incredible private schools around the country. I just wouldn’t attend one if it’s not ranked in the top 25, and/or you don’t receive scholarships that make tuition equal to public school tuition. If you’re rich, then who cares. Spend away.
Unfortunately, state budgets have been severely mismanaged by politicians over the years that legislators have “no choice” but to slash education spending even though they don’t slash their own pension programs. Our politicians have a great way of telling people what to do, without following their own rules. It’s a shame given education is the key to so many things, including solving the widening economic inequality that will eventually break this country.
OPEN UP THE WALLET
Given William & Mary served me well, I’ll donate some more money to the reunion fund. But hopefully this article will serve my alma mater even better with some publicity. If you can get into a public school like William & Mary and pay in-state tuition, it’s a no brainer to attend vs. paying out the nose for comparable schools like Duke, Georgetown, Yale, Harvard, Emory, and so forth unless you are rich or receive scholarships. There are other great public schools such as Michigan, Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, CUNY, Georgia Tech, UNC-Chapel Hill, Texas, Wisconsin and more that provide top quality educations at a fraction of private school tuition as well.
If you are feeling the weight of student loan debt, then definitely don’t donate to your school. If you graduated from college and couldn’t find a job for an extended period of time, I wouldn’t be in a rush to donate either. Although a large part of getting a job and paying off loans is your responsibility, if you are going to pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, your school should do everything possible to help you land on your feet after graduation. And if you don’t, I should hope schools will work out loan repayment plans that provide their alumni with a little bit more breathing room.
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Updated for 2018 and beyond