Attitudes Toward “Fund the Future” Ambivalent

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Fund the Future campaign kicked off last week, with Student Council member Paul Apollo briefly donning a bear costume in Parrish to help solicit donations from students. A result of a joint idea of Student Council President Peter Gardner, President Al Bloom and Gil Kemp ’72 at the December 2007 Board of Managers meeting, Fund the Future will match every student dollar donated to the program with $10 donated by Mr. Kemp for financing Swarthmore’s new no loan component of financial aid.

Gardner says that the idea “really came out of an effort to show community support for the [no loans] effort”. Fund the Future has no specific monetary goal, according to Gardner. “Basically as much as we can get, that’s our target at this point,” he said.

Generally, attitudes toward Fund the Future were positive. “I think it’s really generous of Gil Kemp to trust the students in dictating how much money he’s giving to the school. While my friends and I felt that our priority is paying off our own loans, I think that the loan free program is something that a lot of students support. It’s nice that this is an easy way to give money to a program that we all support and it’s going to a good cause rather than disappearing into the depths of the alumni office,” Esther Burson ’10 said.

Anson Stewart ’10 was also supportive of the program, saying, “I think that it’s a good program, especially because it helps raise awareness about how we get money for financial aid and where the money comes from. But I do think that my $1 was eaten up by the nice paper and envelope I got my ‘thank you’ note on.”

However, there was a strong undercurrent of a vague sense of distaste for the idea of asking current students for money. Many students who were approached for an interview about the topic did not want to be quoted for fear of their comments being misperceived as unsupportive of students who receive financial aid, but expressed displeasure with a program that solicits funds from students who are ostensibly already paying $45,700 for their Swarthmore education, though they felt that the no loans policy is a good cause.

One person who was willing to go on the record about their opinion was James MacArthur ’11, who struggled to articulate his opinion about the initiative. Initially saying that he doesn’t “have thousands of dollars to give”, MacArthur seemed placated but not swayed in his position when it was pointed out that no one is expecting students to give more than a few dollars. “I don’t think it’s really fair to be asking students for money. Maybe if there was a different way to show that we had an interest in helping other students, I would be more excited and willing to help,” he said.

Another first-year, Julia Soper ’11, said, “I know that I don’t have as much of an in-depth understanding of the budget as they [the administration] do, but I feel that with the amount of money they have, there should be some way to use their funds more effectively than they are. It’s not too much to ask us to give $5, but with the amount of money we’re giving them now, we shouldn’t have to.”

When asked what he would say to students with opinions like MacArthur’s and Soper’s, Gardner said, “I hope that students really feel like by putting in however much they’re willing and able to, that’s helping the next generation of Swarthmore students, that’s showing support for improving financial aid, that’s increasing accessibility, that’s increasing diversity. I hope that students should feel like they should play a role in helping community achieve those goals.”

In an e-mail response to questions about the Fund the Future program, Mr. Kemp said that the idea for matching student gifts with $10 of his own was a response “to the enthusiasm I saw in Peter Gardner and Student Council for the loan-free initiative.” As for the principle of asking students to help contribute towards funding the no loans policy, Kemp said, “I also believe that although student budgets are pretty universally tight, there is great value in getting used to the habit of giving to important causes. And a match can be an effective motivator. And although you can say that Swarthmore is rich, excellence is not cheap. And even those students paying full tuition are still getting subsidized to an amount almost equal to what they pay.”

The raising of awareness of how Swarthmore obtains funds for its financial aid program with initiatives such as Fund the Future – the point made by Stewart – might prove to be as valuable an outcome as the money itself.

As of Thursday afternoon, $957.22 from 122 donors had been donated to Fund the Future, which is an average gift of approximately $7.85. With Mr. Kemp’s matching funds, that brings the total amount of money raised by Fund the Future for the new no loans policy to more than $10,000.

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