The one-two punch of alumni giving

by James W. Wagner, President of Emory University

Once again the annual college rankings have hit newsstands in the pages of U.S. News and World Report . And once again Emory University has been ranked the twentieth-best research university in America, out of more than three thousand institutions of higher education surveyed.

As happens every year, these rankings call attention to Emory's strengths and challenges. On the one hand, it is a tribute to the hard work of our faculty and our staff at all levels that Emory is ranked in the top one-tenth of one percent of all colleges and universities in the country. On the other hand, although the nineteen institutions ranked ahead of us are doing everything they can to become still better, those of us devoted to advancing Emory's excellent mission would enjoy seeing Emory's true strengths recognized by a climb in the rankings.

When I look closely at the factors that went into these latest rankings, I am actually very encouraged. Let me tell you why.

To begin without, our admissions process has grown ever more selective. Last year we accepted only 39 percent of applicants for admission to the freshman class--the lowest percentage in our history. Of those admitted, more made Emory their first choice than ever before.

In fact, Emory is more selective than five universities ranked ahead of us: Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern. Having just enrolled our most-selective freshman class, we can be confident that this factor will continue to work in our favor in future rankings.

In the area of faculty resources, Emory fares even better. In this category Emory ranks higher than eleven universities ahead of us on the overall scale, including fifth-ranked Stanford and third-ranked Yale. As we prepare for a comprehensive financial campaign, this factor in the U.S. News formula is likely to continue counting in Emory's favor.

What gives me greatest certainty that Emory will rise in the rankings is our level of alumni giving. Don't get me wrong. The percentage of our alumni who give is not good. Last year only 19 percent of Emory alumni gave back to the University out of their financial resources. Among national universities, Emory ranked 73rd in this category. By comparison, Harvard received contributions from 47 percent of its alumni, Princeton from 61 percent, and Duke 45 percent.

As our students themselves have observed, in the editorial pages of the Emory Wheel , the level of alumni giving has a direct impact on university rankings. The editors of the Wheel have challenged their fellow students not to forget this as they graduate and move into the ranks of alumni.

Giving by alumni has a double impact. First, it affects the one factor over which alumni have most control in determining the rank of their university. And, second, even if the rankings "game" appears to be a superficial way of measuring the real strength of an institution, giving to one's alma mater simply makes resources available that would not otherwise be there for programs, financial aid, library collections, and other substantive goods that strengthen the institution.

The Alumni Board of Governors this year is leading the way in helping to make Emory stronger. For the first time, 100 percent of the Board of Governors have made financial gifts to Emory. Whether an individual's gift is large or small does not matter in this particular effort. What matters is that every alumnus or alumna with an interest in raising Emory's profile and strengthening Emory's mission has invested in the value of his or her own degree--as well as the degrees of future generations of Emory students.  

I invite you to make that investment as well.



© 2005 Emory University