In its third annual “Grateful Grads” index, ranking America’s top 200 college and universities based on alumni appreciation, Forbes has awarded Centre College its highest ever position at #40 in the nation.
Forbes columnist Matt Schifrin first devised the index in 2014, wanting to “let alumni dollars and devotion determine successful college outcomes.” The methodology originally looked only at 10-year median private donations. Schifrin has since added a three-year average alumni participation rate to his formula.
This has helped smaller colleges like Centre, whose ranking has improved dramatically since the index’s inception, moving from #66 (2014), to #60 (2015), to #40 (2016) among all public or private colleges and universities.
“Centre’s listing by Forbes as one of its top ‘Grateful Grads’ colleges is certainly not surprising,” says Richard Trollinger, vice president for college relations. “Centre has long been known for the loyalty of its alumni.”
Compared with the hundreds of thousands of alumni at larger universities, Centre’s constituency of roughly 14,000 alumni may seem small.
“The devotion of Centre alumni is certainly disproportionate,” observes Trollinger. “This is especially apparent when the College conducts one of its periodic capital campaigns, such as the $200 million Third Century Campaign currently underway.”
Announced publicly on Jan. 30, 2015, 65 percent of the overall campaign goal, or $130 million, is devoted to increasing endowed funds for student scholarships and financial aid. Centre has currently raised nearly $128 million toward its goal.
“We consistently see this kind of generosity on an annual basis as well,” he says, “since alumni giving has been among the highest in the nation for decades.”
Centre’s chief development officer for 22 years, Trollinger’s position includes responsibility for alumni relations as well. He attributes the high participation rate percentages to one particular characteristic.
“There is something about this college that touches the lives of its students and continues to mean something to them across the years of their lives,” Trollinger says. “Once Centre students graduate and officially become alumni, this identity remains with them and means something special for the rest of their lives.”
Such loyalty makes Trollinger’s work and that of his colleagues much easier.
“Most of the people we call on agree to see us and agree to make gifts in support of an academic program that they want rising generations of students to experience just as they did,” he says.
“At the same time, this sense of alumni loyalty is tempered by the realization that Centre must always be changing and improving the way it delivers its educational experience.”
This spirit is typified by a comment made several years ago by life trustee David Grissom, Centre’s former board chair and a member of the Class of 1960.
“Like many others,” Grissom says, “I have great memories from my student days at Centre College. But we must never allow our memories—wonderful as they are—to be greater than our dreams for Centre’s future.”
Among Southern liberal arts institutions, only Davidson College and Washington & Lee University come in higher, earning Centre a ranking of #3 in the South.
by Michael Strysick
July 12, 2016