Representatives from Barnard’s Student Government Association questioned administrators about low rates of alumni engagement and a lack of awareness among the student body of student-alumni networking opportunities at an SGA meeting on Monday.
According to President of the Alumni Association of Barnard College and member of the board of trustees Jyoti Menon, BC ’01, the current giving participation rate among Barnard alumni is 21 percent, in comparison to the college’s reported giving participation rate of 27 percent in 2017. This rate is significantly lower than many of those reported by sister colleges of comparable age and size. Wellesley College, for example, had a giving rate of 46 percent in the fiscal year 2018.
Barnard’s capacity to fundraise among alumni has serious implications for the college’s standing in college rankings and its ability to fundraise for student programs, particularly for financial aid.
Barnard has historically faced low rates of alumni engagement, a factor which administrators at the SGA meeting said contributes to the college’s ranking in the U.S. News & World Report at 24th place out of liberal arts colleges. Wellesley College, however, is ranked third..
Menon and Executive Director of Alumnae Relations Karen Sendler emphasized that their top priorities for alumni relations were increasing student-alumni connections through mentoring programs and improving rates of giving among alumni. Menon stated that if donation participation rates to the Senior Fund reached 65 percent, she would personally donate $2,019 to the fund.
“It's about finding small ways to come back and give back,” Menon said. “Participation is not about the dollar, it's about the act of giving. What’s a challenge is finding the right opportunities at the right time ... but they are there.”
SGA Representative for Arts and Culture Phanesia Pharel, BC ’21, pressed administrators on the need to consider possible reasons as to why giving rates among young alumni might be lower. She proposed that students of color and first-generation and low-income students might not want to give to the college as a result of negative experiences while a student.
“Part of what’s important in this conversation about participation is making sure that students have pleasurable experiences [at Barnard] so that they donate,” she said. “I was talking to a friend who was a woman of color, who was FGLI … and she said ‘I’m never donating to Barnard’ … because of the negative experiences [she] had … and that’s sad because she should participate.”
In response, Sendler emphasized the necessity of the Office of Alumnae Relations in processing and addressing negative feedback from students about their experiences at the college. “The first thing we have to do is listen,” she said.
Also at the meeting, representatives raised concerns about an apparent lack of knowledge among Barnard students about professional development opportunities and networking events with alumni through Beyond Barnard and the Office of Alumnae Relations. The concerns come one week after SGA’s Desserts After Dark survey revealed that 63 percent of respondents with on-campus jobs said they had not used any of the resources available to them at Beyond Barnard.
When Sendler asked representatives if they were members of Barnard’s LinkedIn group, which is open to all current Barnard students and alumni, representatives expressed a lack of familiarity with its existence. Senior Class President Rhea Nagpal, BC ’19, suggested that Beyond Barnard should publicize information about the LinkedIn group as well as other job and volunteer opportunities from alumni in Beyond Barnard’s weekly newsletter.