Editor's note: It's harder than ever for colleges to fill their incoming classes, but some schools are meeting that challenge with creativity. In this monthly column, called The Pipeline, we'll spotlight innovative tactics colleges are using to cut through the noise and reach prospective students throughout the recruitment and enrollment process.
Lanyards. Keychains. T-shirts. The typical gifts colleges send to admitted students in acceptance packages are just that — typical.
But this year, the University of Puget Sound is going in a different direction. Rather than spend $25,000 on school swag, the private Washington university is donating the amount to several local charitable organizations in honor of admitted students.
"We spend every year, like every institution does, trying to find ways to engage with our students and get them excited about being admitted to the university," said Matthew Boyce, vice president for enrollment. "Instead of giving something that, frankly, isn't sustainable, we could offer an opportunity to give back to our community."
When students open their maroon and brown admissions package, they'll be directed to a webpage where they can select one of five organizations to send their sliver of the $25,000. The university expects to send admissions offers to around 4,000 students, meaning each individual donation will amount to roughly $6.
The donations are meant to appeal to members of Generation Z, people who were born in 1997 or later. They make up the majority of the University of Puget Sound's students, nearly all of whom are age 24 or younger, according to federal data.
"This is a differentiator for kids who are less interested maybe in stuff than they are in their ability to make an impact," said Lindsay Kubaryk, a senior associate at consultancy EAB.
Social justice is also important to Gen Z. High school and college-age students have been at the forefront of today's social movements, from fighting environmental racism to leading marches for gun violence prevention.
"They're the most diverse generation that there is," said Corey Seemiller, an author of several books on Gen Z. "Social justice is not something that's about other people, it's about everyone that they know and love." The university's choice of charitable giving over objects also could appeal to environmentally conscious members of Gen Z, Seemiller wrote in an email.
Sixty-two percent of Gen Z members — more than any other generation — say increasing racial and ethnic diversity is good for society, according to a 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center. More than half say climate change is caused by humans. And 70% say the government should do more to solve problems.
The five organizations chosen by the University of Puget Sound tap into some of those ideals. One, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, patrols the nearby waterways for pollution and advocates for cleaning up contamination. Another, the Tacoma Community House, helps immigrants and refugees learn new skills and find jobs. The other three include a youth activities organization, a food bank and a support center for victims of sexual assault.
Students will be able to learn more about the organizations through a podcast series produced by the university. They also can participate in the initiative even if they don't enroll.
University officials haven't yet decided if they'll continue to give donations in lieu of traditional admissions gifts for future classes. They'll be watching to see if it garners excitement and helps draw students into the surrounding community. Students, for instance, may end up volunteering or interning at one of the organizations.
"We don't think of this as just the entering students offering up their ideas on where the money should go," Boyce said. "We think of it as a continuing relationship."