What U.S. News & World Report’s Big Change Means For Higher-Ed Fundraising
“It’s an irrelevant stat when you look at the big picture.”
“I’m indifferent to the announcement as a whole.”
“I think this is a great change!”
“It’s the end of higher-ed fundraising as we know it.”
Although a minor change in an age-old, controversial ranking system for higher-ed institutions, we’ve heard a myriad of different opinions on the matter. While some welcomed the change, others were a bit wary of the ramifications of the declining alumni participation rate (a rather worrying trend for the last decade).
But what does U.S. News & World Report’s latest change mean for the fundraising landscape in the US educational space? What do we think about this change? And are we about to see a significant shake-up to the rankings? Let’s take a look.
What did U.S. News & World Report change with their methodology?
Every year, U.S. News & World Report releases a list of the best colleges based on a multitude of ranking factors. The main purpose of this list is to help prospective students make more informed choices about where they choose to pursue their higher education.
The ranking was based on a variety of factors, including an institution’s alumni participation rate (APR, % of active, contactable alumni that give back to their alma mater). Towards the end of May 2023, the media organization released a statement announcing that this metric would no longer impact the rankings of colleges and universities.
How significant is this change?
From a ranking point of view, APR wasn’t a very significant contributor to the position of an institution, so removing it from the methodology isn’t too big a change. APR accounts for about 3% of an institution’s overall score. According to their statement, U.S. News wants to remove this metric to make way for other related measures that embrace student diversity.
However, for advancement offices in institutions that worked on or cared for this metric, this change could have several ramifications.
- Loss of motivation to improve APR: An institution would naturally gravitate towards initiatives that would lead to a better APR, as that would boost its ranking among other institutions. With the metric no longer a factor to consider, this could mean that higher-ed fundraising takes a hit.
- No more skewed metrics: Determining an institution’s APR isn’t easy, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every institution has its own way of arriving at this number, and there have also been instances where numbers have been manipulated to juice up the APR. Getting rid of the metric can eliminate situations like this altogether.
- Reframing of messaging: Institutions that previously emphasized the connection between giving and rankings will need to rework their messaging. Instead of highlighting how alumni giving impacts rankings, they should focus on the broader impact of giving. This includes emphasizing the significance of alumni contributions in enhancing the student experience, enabling transformative education, and more.
While APR won’t be a part of what ultimately decides an institution’s ranking, it will still be prominently visible as one of the stats on their profile.
The (possible) Future of Alumni Relations and Fundraising
It’s at times like these that we wish we had a crystal ball or a clairvoyant person on our team. While we have neither of those, we’d like to take an educated guess at what this means for the future.
- Engagement will trump giving: With this change, advancement teams can focus less on a metric that’s hard to measure and more on how to make an impact by engaging with a wider spectrum of alumni. Leaders can focus on holistic engagement programs instead of playing short-term transactional fundraising games.
- More inclusive metrics: While it’s a decent gauge to measure graduate/alumni satisfaction, APR still has its shortcomings as a metric. For one, it only considers actual gifts made and not the potential to give in the future. It also excludes other signs of a strong affinity to the alma mater – recommendations, positive word of mouth, purchasing tickets to events, volunteering, and so on.
- Focus on building a healthy pipeline: Advancement teams may now start focusing on building a strong pipeline of future donors. This could include focusing on a long-term game, where programs cater towards creating a rapport with alumni and strengthening relationships, as opposed to raising as much as possible in a short time frame.
- A (slight) shift in rankings: As we mentioned earlier, APR didn’t account for a major percentage of an institution’s ranking on the list. It will definitely shift a few rankings around, but the top would most likely remain unchanged. A common critique against the rankings is about the obsession with elite status rather than a school’s specific fit for a particular student. While the outgoing metrics are making way for ones that focus on the diversity of students, we’re still yet to learn more about them and how they’d impact overall rankings.
Blackbaud, the leading provider of software for powering social impact, and Almabase, the digital-first alumni engagement solution, have announced the expansion of their partnership to the education sectors of Canada and the United Kingdom. The partnership will provide institutions with a modern, digital-first solution to improve constituent data, drive self-serve engagement, and boost event participation.
A Unified Vision
The partnership aligns with Blackbaud’s commitment to customer-centric innovation across digital engagement, Advancement CRM, and financials.
“Partners bring integrated capabilities that extend capabilities and outcomes for Blackbaud customers. We are thrilled that Almabase’s offering, integrated with Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT® and leveraging Blackbaud’s best-in-class payment solution, Blackbaud Merchant Services™, is now available to even more of our customers around the world.”
- Liz Price, Sr. Director of Global Partners at Blackbaud