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NKU Students' Hands-On Philanthropy Boosts Graduation Rates

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College students participating in philanthropy-based courses are 38% more likely to graduate. (Adobe Stock)
College students participating in philanthropy-based courses are 38% more likely to graduate. (Adobe Stock)
November 27, 2020

By Kajsa Larson and Mark Neikirk for The Conversation.
Broadcast version by Nadia Ramlagan for Kentucky News Connection


HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- College students at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) are participating in a program that allows them to give away thousands of dollars in grants to local nonprofits, and a new study shows those students are more likely to graduate.

Researchers found among 500 students who took the philanthropy class when they were sophomores, 58% went on to graduate versus 24% overall.

Kajsa Larson, associate professor of Spanish and faculty coordinator for the Mayerson Student Philanthropy Project classes at NKU, said community engagement makes the topics studied in the classroom real and relevant.

"I think that the incorporation of student philanthropy in the class makes students more engaged," Larson contended. "And we've seen that in our own students and our own classrooms, but the data also reflects that."

The program is the brainchild of former NKU president James Votruba and Neal Mayerson, a psychotherapist, businessman and philanthropist. The money NKU students give away comes primarily from individual and foundation donors.

Mark Neikirk, executive director of the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at NKU said the program began in the fall of 2000 with only a few classes. Now, about fifteen classes participate a semester.

Typically, each class awards $2000 at the end of the course. He explained hands-on philanthropy helps students make connections between their studies and real-world implications.

"In various measures of student success, adding philanthropy amplifies student performance and amplifies their likelihood to stay and graduate," Neikirk asserted.

Neikirk added more than 82% of the students surveyed at the end of their Mayerson class said the philanthropy component had a positive impact on their sense of personal responsibility to their community.

Kajsa Larson and Mark Neikirk wrote this article for The Conversation.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY