The Effects of Student Loan Debt on Charitable Giving

By Rachel Schwimmer – A recent GG+A Survey Lab study finds that college students and recent graduates think that giving to charity is important, but many aren’t able to because of student loan debt and other financial restrictions. A survey of 276 students of 2- and 4-year colleges and recent graduates of these institutions found that 74% of those surveyed said that they had made a charitable donation in the past and a similar percentage said that it was important to them to give to charity. Of that group, 45% said that making charitable donations was very important to them. Among the respondents who had not donated, 55% indicated that this was due to the burden of tuition costs and student loans or other financial limitations.

College students think giving to charity is important, but feel limited by mounting student loan debt

These findings are notable for the large percentage of students who say that philanthropic giving is not only important to them but something in which they have actively participated. In addition to making financial contributions, respondents also gave by volunteering, donating books, or discussing giving practices with family and friends.

When posed with a hypothetical situation in which they had won $1 million dollars, 88% of respondents indicated that they would donate some portion of it, with the average amount being $129,000. The responses as to which types of charities they would give to were dominated by health and human services organizations, with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and Planned Parenthood receiving the most specific mentions by name.

There are considerable implications in these findings for colleges and universities regarding how students and alumni view them as a philanthropic priority. The burden of tuition costs and student loans may be limiting the donations they receive from students and recent alumni and harming the charitable relationships that could be built for the future. Remarkably, not a single respondent chose their college or alma mater when asked to whom they would give if they won a large sum of money, indicating that this demographic as a whole does not view institutions of higher education as a priority for their giving.

The results challenge a common conception that college-aged students are not motivated by philanthropy – they think charitable giving is important, even if they don’t currently have the means to do it. The strain of tuition costs and student loans limit the ability to give for many students. Of those who do give or are interested in giving in the future, none chose an institution of higher education as the recipient of their donations. Further research should explore this position and directly ask respondents whether or not they would support their school and why. Based on these findings, colleges and universities are missing out on a motivated potential donor base due to the high cost of attending school and their perception that higher education institutions are not a priority for their philanthropic giving.

About the Author:
Rachel Schwimmer is a research intern at the GG+A Survey Lab. She focused on developing meaningful insights from the Lab’s collection of survey results. She is a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

For more information on how the GG+A Survey Lab can help you understand your constituents, contact Dan Lowman, Director of the GG+A Survey Lab at surveylab@grenzglier.com.

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