MIT Hopes Two-Thirds of Seniors Will Give to Class Gift, OCW Fund

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Nikolai D. Begg ’09 learns about the Senior Gift during the opening ceremony on Nov. 13 in the Coffeehouse. The Class of 2009’s gift will be a donation to MIT’s OpenCourseWare. The money will be used to update the course material for 5.111, a freshmen chemistry course.
Seth Villarreal

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The Friday, Nov. 14 article “MIT Hopes Two-Thirds of Seniors Will Give to Class Gift, OCW Fund” incorrectly described the history of MIT’s support for the OpenCourseWare initiative. MIT has never fully funded the program. Most of the start-up funding came from charitable foundations, and MIT’s support has grown to approximately half of OCW’s annual budget.

The Senior Gift Campaign announced an ambitious 65 percent participation rate target as they unveiled their project of developing an MIT OpenCourseWare Fund. The proceeds of the senior gift will go towards updating the video and lecture content for 5.111 Principles of Chemical Science.

The 65 percent target was set in response to a challenge by Martin Tang ’72 to beat the 64 percent record for senior class participation set by last year’s class. If the senior class meets Tang’s challenge, he will contribute $25,000 to the class gift. Tang will contribute just $5,000 if only 25 percent of the class participates, and an additional $5,000 for every 10 percent increase in class participation through the 65 percent target. If participation falls below 25 percent, the class will not receive any challenge contribution.

The Senior Gift Committee picked the project based on responses to a survey sent to the senior class. Committee Chair Elizabeth L. Palmer ’09 said the top responses from the survey indicated that seniors wanted their gift to focus on academics, scholarships, and service. She said that after brainstorming, the committee unanimously chose to donate to OCW.

The other choice in the running was donating to UROPs, said Brandon M. Reese ’09, Senior Gift Project Coordinator, who originally suggested OCW as an idea. The committee ultimately picked OCW “because it has an impact all over the world,” said Reese.

Posting a new course on OCW can cost anywhere from $10,000 for just lecture notes to $25,000 if the course contains video content. Reese explained that the price included costs for video recording and professional editing, paying students to transcribe lectures, indexing the videos for easy searching, and technology expenditures for actually hosting the course materials. There are also expensive fees associated with distributing the videos to other countries, said Reese.

“They’re at the limit of their budget” just updating one or two classes every term, said Reese. OCW used to be completely funded through MIT, but the Institute has scaled back its funding of the program.

OCW currently has “a big queue” of courses they’d like to update, said Reese. Since 5.111 is next on their list, the gift will be targeted to that course first. 5.111 hasn’t been updated since “our freshman fall,” Palmer told her classmates at the announcement.

Before the Campaign was revamped in 2006, senior participation had hovered around an anemic 30%. But for the last three years since the class of 2006, seniors have smashed the previous year’s record achieving participation rates of 51%, 52% and 64% from 2006 to 2008 respectively. The class of 2009 will look to continue this trend. “We want to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke,” said Palmer.

Senior Gift Advisor Rosheen B. Kavanaugh of the MIT Alumni Association attributed the recent spike in senior participation in part to “a lot stronger volunteer effort.” There has also been “a concerted effort to educate students about philanthropy,” she added, as we’ve begun “asking students to give starting freshman year” through the Underclassmen Giving Campaign. She noted that last year’s senior class was the first to beat Harvard’s perennially high senior participation rate (63 percent last year).

Alumni challengers like Tang usually come forward on their own to offer rewards for the senior class attaining certain participation percentage targets, said Kavanaugh. “Now that seniors have become more excited, alumni donors come forward themselves,” she said. Tang’s family has donated generously to MIT in the past and the graduate dormitory Tang Residence Hall as well as the Tang Center for Management Education are named in their honor.

The Senior Class Project was announced at last night’s kickoff ceremony at the Coffeehouse as seniors mingled to snippets of “Accidentally in Love,” munched on free snacks, and were enticed to donate by the lure of T-shirts.

Seniors can donate any time through May 14, though they need not donate to the class project. Seniors can instead choose to donate to scholarships, UROPs, athletics, the Independent Residence Development Fund, or any other MIT club or department of their choice.