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Numbers don't tell the whole story

Taylor boasts its rankings in college surveys quite a lot. Most schools do; if they rank high enough the listing becomes a badge of honor. But I don't think the numbers provide the whole story.

First, those statistics are provided by the schools themselves. To my knowledge, there is virtually no auditing of the numbers provided. Most of the rankings work by using data from the Common Data Set Initiative. It's a standardized survey that schools are requested to answer. When I was at Taylor, the people primarily responsible for these surveys where an admissions officer and a student admissions intern (I was one, but was responsible for managing CREW, the admission student staff -- I never touched the surveys).

Now, for the numbers. One strikes me as a bit odd -- Taylor's alumni giving rate is 37 percent. It might seem low, but it's one of the highest (if not the highest) rates published in the survey. And though it's weighted the lowest as a factor in overall rankings, it is a "proxy" of alumni satisfaction with the school, according to US News. Now US News says that this rate is an average of the number of eligible alumni and the number that gave any amount of money to the university over a two year period.

Now, for how Taylor makes that number so high. Though I didn't go to my commencement (I avoided it because of the hostility from administrators and the professors in my own department) I still received a letter from the development office. In it was a two dollar bill that I was asked to send back to the school. At commencement, graduating students each gave a dollar back to the school (that I believe was also provided by the school). The idea is that each year, you double your gift (hence the two dollar bill). This year, I should be sending in four dollars (though that two dollar bill is still in my wallet).

What does all this mean? That at least some, if not most, of the money given by those eligible alumni is actually money that the University already had or at the very least facilitated getting it into the hands of its graduating seniors (I'm still trying to figure out where it comes from, probably from the William Taylor Foundation - the money comes from a private benefactor). That's not a valid proxy of anything. A true alumni giving rate would reflect the amount of their own money alumni give back to the school. An even truer alumni giving rate would reflect how many give back money without being prodded by the development office or Taylor's "student ambassadors" (glorified telemarketers).

What I would like to see from Taylor is this -- the average amount of money given by alumni (my guess is that it's $2), a statistical breakdown of how many years alumni give and continue give, etc., and the exact accounting of how much of Taylor's alumni giving rate is composed of students merely funneling back that two dollar bill. But then, there are a lot of things I'd like to see from Taylor.


Blogger Annie said...

Hey Justin, technically those 3 bucks (which I have right here in front of me) don't come from Taylor, and here's how: In '93 Prof. Rick Seaman started the "Seaman Challenge" to encourage TU alumni to support TU by doubling their giving to TU each year. To start this off, he gave each student a $1 and $2 bill of his own money. His wife continues this tradition by "buying" the $2 bills back from Taylor (because they've been signed by past students) and giving those bills (plus the 1 dollar) to the next year's graduates.

November 2, 2004 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I remember it now...I was wondering how they got past the "re-gifting"'s still somewhat of a shady process. They're giving the students money to just give back. I'm keeping mine :-)

November 2, 2004 at 5:35 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

So you never got your $1? I wonder what they did with that? The worst part about this whole situation is that when you leave graduation rehearsal they line the stadium entrance with people from the alumni office and EVERYONE throws their envelope in. I was afraid to walk through and not throw mine in because I knew someone would stop to kindly "remind" I threw in a blank envelope and kept my dollar. But, I also have to wonder if I still was written down as a donor because it is highly possible that they check off your name without opening the envelopes right away (our name was printed on the outside) and then later, when they find an empty envelope, I doubt they go back through their records to remove someone from the list, but who knows really...It's definitely a shady process.

November 2, 2004 at 7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Seaman challenge actually dates back to 1990 the year I graduated. It is a horrible practice and does skew the #s for Alumni giving. I have not given since. If I remember correctly we did not even get the chance to hold the envelope, but were told that it was being donated for us.

My big problem with Alumni giving is TUs practice of printing the names of Alumni that have given and at what level. If I did give to TU it would not be the business of any other person, alumnus or not, what I gave to the school.

November 3, 2004 at 5:06 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

I wonder how that one dollar plays into the would seem that since it's a forced giving at graduation rehearsal, that it would really up the rate...then again, graduating seniors don't compromise 100 percent of eligible, yeah, that 1 dollar probably throws things off a lot more than even the two dollar bill.

I'd be really interested to see where the 1 dollar meant for me to give ended up...

November 3, 2004 at 8:56 AM  

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