Why Aren't UC Berkeley Alumni Feeling Generous?

University of California at Berkeley is in financial trouble. Their government funding has grown ever more scant over the past decade, and they do not seem to share other schools' luck with generous alumni. UC Vice Chancellor John Wilton estimates that between 2003 and 2012, "state appropriations have been cut by 50% in nominal terms, or about 70% in real dollars." Philanthropy represents one of only a few alternative sources of funding. But on average, only 9% of UC alums give back after graduation "compared to 21 percent of alumni across all private institutions that are members of the Association of American Universities," according to Daily Cal.

Berkeley Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations David Blinder attributes the issue to alums "who graduated when tuition was only about $700" and have trouble "connect[ing] finances to education." Perhaps the nostalgia of alums who attended UC in the affordable 60s, 70s and 80s prevents them from grasping the seriousness of the school's present financial situation.

Whatever the reason, the relationship between Berkeley and their alumnis’ wallets can only be described as Coyote & Roadrunner-like. The university launched a fundraising drive to raise $2 billion in 2008. Now they've got their business students cranking out handwritten “thank you” cards to donors.

With its current student body of around 36,000, Berkeley faces challenges unlike of those private schools like Princeton or Columbia when it comes to schmoozing alums. These smaller private schools can invite the entire alumni population over for the weekend without worrying about structural damage. At Berkeley, with its estimated 458,000 living alumni, such a weekend does not even enter the realm of possibility.

To ingratiate almost half a million people efficiently and effectively would require industrial-strength schmoozing in mass quantitites. How do you relate to a population that large and still maintain sincerity? It's an issue that now plagues many a public university, and each will surely come up with its own variety of answers.

Cross your fingers for Berkeley that the handwritten cards will do the trick.