Hillsdale College’s 1844 Society is striving to bridge the divide between students, alumni, and the institution itself based on their common appreciation for a Hillsdale education.
Founded last fall, the 1844 Society began to foster student-alumni relationships as well as increase alumni engagement with Hillsdale by encouraging students to invest time and money in the college before graduation. Director of Alumni Volunteer Engagement Colleen McGinness, who started the society and currently serves as its staff adviser, compared it to the student-alumni associations found at many other schools.
“The society was conceived out of a desire to cultivate a stronger alumni network,” she said.
On average, only 12 percent of alumni donate to Hillsdale — a number McGinness said she’d like to improve.
Currently the society has 20 founding members, all of whom were recommended by Hillsdale College faculty and staff and applied to become involved. Students who wish to become members now don’t have to apply; they just have to pay $18.44 per semester and then $184.40 within three years of graduation.
Members will receive perks, which will increase the longer a student is in the society.
“We hope to have some exclusive events and swag items; we’re working on graduation cords,” McGinness said. “There’s some benefit to membership, as well, because we’re trying to connect our alumni with this group in particular, so that would give them more opportunities to network and know alum.”
McGinness emphasized that giving out of gratitude is an important element of the society.
Students can designate their $18.44 to particular programs or let it go by default into the Ransom Dunn scholarship fund, which supports students who encounter unexpected financial troubles during their Hillsdale career. The society’s president, senior Randy Keefe, said he gave his proceeds to the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program.
“The whole purpose of the 1844 Society is really to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness on this campus,” Keefe said. “We’re also going to be looking at ways to keep the Hillsdale community going beyond being at Hillsdale.”
The society’s vice president, senior Sydney Delp, agreed: “We’re trying to establish a habit of giving with students and make that habit continue past graduation.”
McGinness emphasized that she wants to promote gratitude for the private donorship that makes Hillsdale affordable — to educate one student, it costs $66,000 per year, though the college charges only $34,352.
“The desire is to help students understand not just the mission and philosophy of Hillsdale but also the financial story of Hillsdale because everyone who attends here goes here on a major discount,” McGinness said.
In addition to the discounted tuition rate, approximately 92 percent of students receive scholarships and financial aid, all of which are supported privately.
“Those numbers are helpful in helping students understand the gift that they’re given here,” McGinness said.
McGinness hopes that students will graduate with greater appreciation for Hillsdale and give back to the school — financially or with their time — as alumni.
“We want students to feel that they are a big and critical part of the mission that we’re trying to accomplish and then want to carry that on as alumni out in the world,” McGinness said.
The society held two events this week. A Legacy Dinner on Monday, Feb. 15 for juniors and seniors featured speeches from President Larry Arnn, Professor of History Thomas Conner, and senior Danny Drummond. On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the society held a “Love the Dale” campaign in the Grewcock Student Union, where students filled out cards describing something they love about Hillsdale.
Keefe said they’re looking for as many students to join as possible.
“Membership is not something that has to be limited,” Keefe said. “Everyone can give back. Everyone has a unique experience that they’re grateful for here.”