Wednesday, January 28, 2015


The Harvard Challenge

Harvard raised over a billion dollars just last year.

That’s one university, in one year.  All tax-free.

I did some math.  What would a single year of raising that much -- just one -- do for HCC?  I’ll keep things pretty generic, and favor round numbers -- feel free to plug in the name of your favorite community college.  The big picture is the point.

Let’s round down to one billion -- Harvard raised far more than that, but if you go chasing every last million, there’s no end to it -- and assume that we knew that the incredibly good year was a one-time event.  What could we do with it?

Assume that we’d put it in an endowment of one sort or another.  Let’s assume a 3 percent annual drawdown, which I’m told isn’t crazy for endowments.  Three percent of a billion is 30 million dollars a year in operating income, in perpetuity.  What would thirty million a year get us?

Let’s start with faculty.  Between salary, pension contributions, health insurance, and raises over time, and because I like to keep the math nice and simple, let’s assume $100,000 total cost per year for each new position.  If we hired, say, 100 new full-time faculty, that would be ten million.  That would bring our adjunct percentage down to where it should be.   (RIght now, we have 135 full-time faculty positions on the books, several of which are currently empty.)

I’ll assume that the offices for those faculty come out of capital budgets, rather than operating.

That leaves another twenty million.  Let’s throw some scholarships in there.  Let’s say that we decided to make a point about merit, and offer money to students whose study habits are better than their jump shots.  Tuition and fees for a full-time student taking 15 credits per term come out to slightly over $5,000.  Add some money for books and living expenses -- students gotta eat -- and make it an even 10k per student per year.  If we allot ten million for scholarships at $10,000 a pop. we could cover a thousand students per year.  Completely.

Which leaves another ten million.  Let’s say another five million for staff and administration -- we could use more hands in IT, library, advising, admissions, financial aid, institutional research, instructional design, disability services, grants, etc.  Another million for professional development, to ensure that everyone stays current.  Assuming 500 employees, that would mean two thousand dollars per person per year.  Add another million for library acquisitions and subscriptions.  

We’ve still got three million to go.  Maybe a million for increased utilities and overhead from all those new people walking around, another million for marketing, and a final million for mini-grants for innovative new projects.  

All of that would be covered in perpetuity, based on what Harvard raised in one year.

I know that some of my wise and worldly readers are trained economists.  I’m guessing that the social ROI of a billion at HCC would put to shame the social ROI of yet another billion at Harvard.  Go ahead and crunch the numbers.

So I hereby issue the Harvard Challenge.  Donors to Harvard: this year, just to see what can be achieved, redirect your donation to your nearest or favorite community college.  Then drop by to see what they did with it.

Go ahead.  I dare you.

DD, you've only told part of the story.

Harvard's endowment stands at $36 billion. Last year the endowment grew by 15%. That's $4+ billion. All tax free, every single penny.

That tax exemption is worth billions every year--what is the policy justification for it? Harvard doesn't "need" that tax exemption any longer. Wouldn't it make more sense to limit that tax exemption to, say, endowments of $1 billion or less? Or even better, to pull everyone into the tax tent? Then you'd have funding to share with the rest of higher ed.

What does it tell us when Obama proposes to end the limited tax freedom of 529 plans for the affluent and never even considers taxation for the giant endowments, which is where the real wealth is?

What does it tell us when Harvard, sitting on $36 billion, is able to persuade its alumni to pony up another $1 billion in a single year?
Or...donate it to your local K-12. As K-12 education funding continues to take hits equal to, or sometimes great than, those in higher ed, classes get larger and services are harder to access. Want better prepared students in higher ed? Fund K-12. All of K-12. Fully.
You've pretty much hit the reason why I donate to my hometown CC instead of my "fancy-pants-private-alma-mater".
"What does it tell us when Harvard, sitting on $36 billion, is able to persuade its alumni to pony up another $1 billion in a single year?"

That Harvard's turn from education to shepherding the scions of the wealthy has been extremely effective.

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