Berea College isn’t a stranger when it comes to support. Whether it’s from alumni and friends or faculty and staff, countless donors have helped continue the education founded by John G. Fee. Each giver is a philanthropist, and Berea relies on and is grateful to every one of them.
Berea had an idea. Could enrolled Berea students be asked to give a portion of their labor earnings back in support of the College that supports them so much? In short, could Berea students become philanthropists? The answer has been a resounding YES.
In 2013, a group of students decided to create a program dedicated to educating students about how the College makes a no-tuition promise. It would convey the importance of the Berea College endowment and help students understand how philanthropic support from alumni and friends is crucial for their success. Part of that program would ask students to give a gift of five dollars per academic year.
Questions arose. Would Berea students, who come from low-wealth families and backgrounds, be willing to give? Would they be able to understand philanthropy, since that word wasn’t in their everyday vocabulary? The task was simple, educate them on the importance of the Berea College endowment and help them understand how private support from alumni and friends is crucial for their success.
With a student body of approximately 1,600, such a task wasn’t going to be easy. Every donor was a new opportunity to cultivate a relationship. During the first full year of Berea Patrons—the eventual name of the initiative—249 students became philanthropists, giving monthly or one time to the College that was making a difference for them.
Over the course of the next several years, 249 student philanthropists became 527 and so forth until 2018-2019, when Berea Patrons reached 1,026 strong. Even during the height of COVID-19, students gave back through their labor earnings in percentages that were consistent with the past.
|Academic Year||Student Participation Rate|
Berea College each academic year since the program’s inception.
* Shortened academic year due to COVID-19
** Percentage calculated out of the number of students enrolled
receiving a labor paycheck due to COVID-19.
Philanthropy is about generosity, not wealth. And the generosity of Berea Patrons proves this. It’s never about how much a student gives from labor earnings; it’s that they understand the importance of being a philanthropist and continuing the cycle of giving after graduation. Some of this country’s most promising students with some of the highest financial need are philanthropists even before they walk across the Commencement platform. As each one will say, “I’m a philanthropist!”