My college just wants to take my money and make me feel bad

Give us money now or we're taking back that degree!

Give us money now or we're taking back that degree!

Every few months my undergrad alma mater sends me another edition of the college magazine. Anybody who’s given their college their current contact info knows exactly what I’m talking about. These magazines portray college life at your school today, at least a college life in which everyone is happy and studious and great things are happening everyday. No one fails a test, barfs in the quad or loses their financial aid in the college magazine. So while they’re good for quick read (or scan) on the toilet or over breakfast, they always feel a bit disingenuous.

But in the last few years they’ve actually started to irk me. I never thought about why until the other day. The Winter ’09 edition had arrived the week before and since sat in a pile of bills, magazines and junk I really didn’t feel like going through. Unemployment has made me care even less about mail – an impressive feat. Hats off to you, unemployment, for pushing my apathy to new depths.

But the other day I went through the pile and found the magazine. This thing was bigger and more substantial than a newsstand magazine or a mail-order catalog. It felt considered, like the school wants me to know that a lot of planning and effort went into its making. It stood out, but in the same way as consumer publications from mutual fund and life insurance companies – the kind featuring handsome retirees helping their grandkids onto a sailboat – or worse still sales collateral at business conferences.

Flipping through, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students smiled at me from each page, posed in their collegiate lives. Why do they always take real people and make them look fake? Professors appeared pensive, but seemed to enjoy themselves. Even the prof who terrorized my economics classes because his wife left him had found his smile somewhere. In the photo he shared a book with another professor; they must really be expensive these days. The campus seemed familiar, but only kind of, given all the improvements over the last 15 years. The stories in the magazine shared student challenges and accomplishments in the classroom and on the field and acknowledged local and national current events without actually having an opinion.

My college magazine isn’t meant to be The New Yorker. It’s just about the goings on at small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania that wants my money. But give me something that makes me concentrate a little. Don’t remind me with every page I turn that it’s all just a sales pitch masquerading as something more. And don’t follow it all up (like you did) with a phone call from a minimum-wage student asking for donations. It just feels too contrived, and makes me not want to give you money, should I ever have any. Let me believe for a moment that you care about me.

The last part of the magazine featured updates from graduating classes dating back 60+ years. And while I learned a couple new things about people I knew, I just ended up feeling bad about myself. Here were people moving forward with lives, getting promoted, having kids, doing impressive things. (Granted, they’re showing off for other alumni too.) Meanwhile I was sitting at home – unemployed and broke – reading about them and wondering where I went wrong. It put me in a funk for the rest of the day. Thanks for the pick-me-up. Whom shall I make the check out to?

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  1. jackie wrote:

    I only went to college for a very short time, your article is hilarious. I think you have a career in writing. Go to web sites like free lance .com
    IN fact I could use a good writer like you. contact me at my email if your interested.
    thanks for the funny article.. I enjoyed it.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink
  2. Pat wrote:

    Several years ago I was laid off from a company and had spent a few months looking without any success. One evening, a very popular fellow from my fraternity called me. We had gone through business school “together”, sharing some of the same classes in university and graduating the same year. While we were not particularly close, we were “friends and brothers”. Anyways, he was part of a crew of chapter presidents that were contacting fellow fraternity brothers from their respective years to get them to donate at least $1000 towards a building fund for a new fraternity house on campus. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d been let go and had not had any success after months of looking but after much hesitation, I finally told him of my situation and how I couldn’t afford to donate $1000 even though I’d receive a tax receipt. He was silent for a moment, then he said, “well you could always put it on your VISA”. He didn’t offer help, didn’t say he was sorry to hear that I’d been let go, didn’t give a shit beyond getting an unemployed guy to buck up $1000. I’ve never bothered with them again.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink
  3. K wrote:

    I feel you! My alma matter sends letters, emails and now has started paying students to CALL my cell phone to beg for money. Last year, I donated five dollars. This year, I think that’s probably $5 too much.

    Monday, February 23, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  4. Norm wrote:

    One time when when I was just out of school I donated $1. They just kept calling me and wouldn’t let me off the phone. Believe it or not, the donation actually got them to stop for awhile.

    Monday, February 23, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  5. After reading this post and this article on the Daily Beast

    the begging from colleges is going to get worse.

    Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  6. I just got my college magazine too. I like to hear some of the stories about how my alma mater is contributing to the world. But I getted spooked in the alumni section and notice kids that graduated long after me sprinting ahead in their fields. Still, I’ll read it. At least they’re putting out a solid publication.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  7. Chris wrote:

    Hey, Norm, I’m catching up on your old posts, and I’m totally with you on this one. I haven’t contributed to F&M in about a decade . Why? Because tuition is now up to something assinine like $50K, and, to put it kindly, most students still come from priviledged backgrounds. Not exactly the type of organization that seems very needy.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  8. Norm wrote:

    And they just won’t leave me alone. They need to be more subtle. Provide me with information without asking me for money for once.

    Sunday, March 15, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  9. Most of the people that I graduated with are somewhat successful and the uber successful people that are highlighted in these magazines are few and far between. I do like to read my college magazine to see if any of my former classmates are highlighted. I would recommend that you contact your alma mater department head and see if they are aware of any job openings that you might be qualified for.
    Being laid off happened to me once and it was the best thing that ever happened to me because I was made to launch my own new career opportunity and open my own business.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. JoblessandLess (Norm Elrod) on Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    New blog post: My college just wants to take my money and make me feel bad

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