Colleges and universities lament the declining rate of giving from their young graduates. And yet the low numbers make sense considering the student loan debt so many alumni carry. For members of the class of 2016 who borrowed, the average amount owed at graduation was over $37,000.

Diving deeper: the average monthly payment for 20- to 30-year-old borrowers is $351, with the median at $203/month, according to studentloanhero.com. Multiply by 12, and that’s an average annual payment of $4,212 per borrower, and a median per-borrower payment of $2,436. Meaning: half of all borrowers in this age group are repaying $2,436/year or more!

What’s left in their wallets? For many, it’s not much.

So when a school asks for a gift from the 25-year-old alum who is repaying $2,436/year, she says: “Really?  I paid so much to attend. I owe a lot and am working hard to pay it off. So…really, are you asking me for more?”

One possible response from the school is: “We know, we get it, but we’re only looking for a small gift that shows you are participating.”

That response hints at institutional tone-deafness which can have damaging long-term consequences.

The thing is: young college graduates need their alma mater much more than alma mater needs the limited gift support that most of these alumni are able to provide. So what if instead, a school shows that “it’s there” to support its young graduates as a resource?

That school will be received warmly by alumni, with gratitude and a sense that “my school is my partner”.  Because that school is demonstrating a desire to chart the path(s) to success WITH them: helping them evaluate options, providing sources of advice, investing in them. It may not always have the answer alumni are looking for, but it realizes the outreach and the effort are important.

And those efforts will be remembered by alumni. By lending a hand before holding a hand out, that school creates the conditions for a grasp that will eventually be tight and lasting.

Is your school that school?

(Photo credit: March Verch)