The Macaulay Honors College will no longer be promising students access to the full $7,500 in opportunities funds, dollars provided to students for study abroad, research or internships, once advertised.
While the honors college promises the program is in fine shape and that this change to policy will not affect the quality of the college experience, just their fundraising program and recruitment, students felt blindsided and say they think the program seems to be struggling economically.
“Even if there is less funding available directly from Macaulay to help underwrite experiential learning opportunities, the program is stronger than ever,” said Geoffrey Glick, Vice President of External Relations for Macaulay.
Glick explained that there is new policy around the money that once funded the scholarships, and that the change has brought up new fundraising problems for the college that has little experience raising money.
The opportunities program is funded by the Macaulay Honors College Foundation, an independent fundraising foundation. In years past though, CUNY covered the cost for what couldn’t be raised for the opportunities fund. The program was allowed to spend into a deficit to fund students’ opportunities and, under Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, CUNY covered the difference. But that policy has been changed. Macaulay will only be able fund students with the money they have raised.
“Macaulay is working to put in place a broader, more effective strategy for raising philanthropic funding that will bolster the Opportunities Funds, the Macaulay Honors College program is in very good health and enjoys strong support from CUNY,” said Glick.
Macaulay is fairly new to fundraising. According to Glick, before 2007, the college didn’t have any organized fundraising strategies or staff, though the program was founded in 2001. The college has hired several directors to run fundraising since then. Glick, who is now looking over Macaulay’s fundraising, said that finding funding will be the main priority.
This doesn’t come without challenges though.
Glick said that Macaulay specifically has some additional hurdles when it comes to fundraising. In comparison to other colleges, the oldest graduating class is only in their 30’s, meaning that most alumni are not at an age or part in their career where they can donate large amounts. Additionally, because the program runs across several campuses, graduates tend to have a deeper connection to the campus they studied at, not the honors college. Recruiting donors outside alum and family members is also difficult at such a young school and an even younger fundraising program.
But Glick said the “heart” of the program, including the four seminar classes that are exclusive to and mandatory for Macaulay students, the high advisor-to-student ratio, the study abroad, research, and internship opportunities, and the “cohort of top students reflecting the diversity, drive, and ambition of New York City’s future leaders” make Macaulay attractive to potential funders.
On top of advertising the program’s features, Glick said the college has new strategies.
“The college leadership is doing everything possible to develop new strategies that will ensure sustainable and robust funding in the future,” he said.
Members of the Macaulay Honors College Foundation board will have an annual giving requirement of $25,000 per trustee. They are also looking to expand the board to 25 members. Glick is also planning an Opportunities Gala fundraising dinner and auction in April where they hope to raise additional funds. Lastly, according to Glick, they have expanded their annual solicitation program to alumni and parents, and reached out to more potential corporate sponsors.
As of now, funds are being distributed competitively based on application, with older students given priority. According to Glick, they are still “wrestling” with how to explain the fund to new students. The funds will no longer be advertised to future students as a guarantee or a major component of the program.
“We’ve been in a sort of weird level where we don’t know exactly what we’re going to be able to offer. So you know we haven’t made any kind of explicit promise of any specific dollar amount,” said Glick.
It is unclear if this will affect the attractiveness of the program to prospective students who are deciding whether to attend in comparison to other schools or whether to apply at all. Glick said a hard number is more likely to attract students. For now, Macaulay is not advertising the funding.
“We’d love to figure out from a sustainable budgeting standpoint how much can we actually promise to an incoming student they will be able to receive… I don’t actually have an answer to that. We don’t have a set number,” he said.
According to Brooklyn College Macaulay Director, Stefano Ghirlanda, opportunities funds weren’t the only reason students chose the program. In a survey done by the honors academy here at Brooklyn College, free tuition was ranked first and the free laptop as second above access to the Opportunities Fund.
For current students though they felt they change came out of the blue, bringing up questions anger for some and questions of the program’s stability for others.
Current Macaulay student Samuel Shteynberg said he was concerned about future of Macaulay.
“I just want to be clear that short-term, Macaulay is doing a great job for students with all the activities, events, classes, and opportunities,” he said. “I’m just uncertain about the fact that the budget is falling and there might not be enough fund money a few years down the line. So I’m concerned about all these nice things we have now being taken away later on and being forced to pay out of pocket for study abroad.”
“There seems to be a lack of information on whether Macaulay is stable financially and we don’t know exactly what is happening to our opp fund,” said Ji Soo Choi, a Macaulay student at Brooklyn College, who said he found out about the change through his peers, but aside from this he has enjoyed Macaulay.
Other students expressed more anger.
“I was pretty pissed about the opportunity funds, because I was really looking forward to traveling abroad. It was the only way I would’ve been able to afford to do so. So yeah, there isn’t exactly a lot of ‘opportunity’ anywhere,” said Nora Abdelrazik, a freshman at Hunter College who thinks she would have considered more colleges if she had known about the changes to the opportunity funds. “I think they need to communicate with our college advisors more, and to actually tell all Macaulay students about any and all opportunities.”
Glick thinks Macaulay did their best to inform students.
“I believe the college administration has taken exceptional steps to communicate with our students as openly and regularly as possible,” he said, explaining that e-mails were sent and informational town halls held last spring.
The change though, according to Glick, comes during a strong point for Macaulay, and the shift will not keep the program from continuing to foster high-performing students.
“No, I don’t think they’ll change long term. The opportunities fund challenge right now is honestly just a glitch. It’s just because we haven’t been around long enough to set up a fundraising basics that we should have in place,” he said. “I am confident that within a decade […] this place should be raising enough on an annual basis to cover opportunities at whatever level the academic affairs office thinks it should be, because we’ve got a great product, you know, that we’re selling to donors.”
[DISCLAIMER: Dylan Campbell is a current student of Macaulay Honors at Brooklyn College.]