What does Betsy Devos mean for alumni fundraising?

Betsy Devos’ appointment to the Secretary of Education post has turned some heads. With a potential push towards privatized education and a conservative stance on funding, many schools are understandably worried about the possible effects on their future budget. Here are 3 things to consider:

 1.     Students loans will skyrocket – which could reduce alumni satisfaction.

If Obama’s policies like the 2010 Student Loan Forgiveness Act aren’t defended by Devos, then programs like income based repayment and long term loan forgiveness may be on the chopping block. With student loan debt increasing around 100% between 2008 and 2016, this issue will affect alumni satisfaction at universities everywhere. If debt management programs disappear, many alumni will have less disposable income for alma matter donations and alumni satisfaction may decrease.

2.     Private universities may be at a funding advantage.

Devos has widely advocated for vouchers that allow families to elect where their education funding goes. Under traditional systems, all taxpayers contribute to public school funding and families can choose to pay additional tuition to send their children to private schools. Devos has stated that she wants funding to follow students to their selected school – whether public, private, or charter - to enable more students to attend religious or private schools at a lower cost. Though this could improve options for some students, it would directly take funding from public schools. Even though families still pay some tuition at most public universities, the government heavily funds overhead costs. If proposed voucher systems extend to higher education, funding may be reallocated such that private universities are eligible to receive a greater share of taxpayer funding based on their student body size, leaving an overall smaller funding pool for public institutions. If alumni and other donors don’t step up to bridge the gap, public institutions might struggle.

3.     Political urgency may affect alumni participation.

Politics divide America today in an unprecedented way – the number of Americans who follow politics “very closely” has increased nearly 35% in the past year. If Devos makes radical changes to federal university mandates on civil rights, sexual assault, or disabilities – areas where she has authority – alumni backlash could be swift, pulling universities into political conversations that could be divisive. When universities are forced to take a stand on national social and political issues, alumni participation is at stake. Failure to institutionally defend civil liberties in the face of reduced federal regulation may frustrate some alumni, while social policies that divert from federal standards may disenfranchise others. If alumni of any political background feel offended by university actions, their valuable donations are at risk.

Given that Devos has had little time to enact policy, it is hard to say exactly what will happen. The 3 concerns above are only the tip of the iceberg, and many other changes that could affect fundraising are up in the air. If you’d like to chat about supercharging your fundraising during turbulent times by automatically targeting alums based on affinities, we’re always happy to chat.

Rachael Stein