Yesterday a delightful staffer at Utah State University’s Alumni office asked me if I would donate $18.88/month for 12 months. The money (she graciously explained) would go towards helping students with financial risk so they could continue on with school.
It sounded like a noble cause, but the staffer was only giving me a part of the story. She wasn’t explaining how this impacted other systems at the school.
We did not discuss my concerns about how students would be selected and determined worthy for the gift. We did not discuss how the program would be advertised so students could become aware of the program. We did not discuss the current health of the fund or its track record.
My issue isn’t with helping people. I absolutely believe in being charitable and I practice what I preach. I learned from the Army Emergency Relief fund that even if a charity has $343,000,000 of assets for a population of only ~ 945,000 people you’ll still ask that same population for money without bothering to tell them the fund is healthy.
Goldratt taught the world that contributing to any part of a system other than the bottleneck is useless. How do I know that this fund addresses the bottleneck?
I personally believe that flow, feedback, and innovation are part of any system. Creating structure to impede these naturally processes damages the effectiveness of the overall system and its ability to adapt to the future. Would this fund impede or assist with the flow, feedback, and innovation of the systems that allow the University to perform?
In particular, as tuition has risen among colleges over the years (and to be fair, USU is not as bad as other options) how would increasing the money supply that could be spent on tuition impact the feedback loops which help to incentivize keeping tuition low? Those who have to leave their educational aspirations for temporary financial setbacks could be serving a much greater purpose than they realize. They’re a valuable part of the feedback loop to keep down costs at universities. I just couldn’t see a compelling argument to disrupt that process.