OK, I borrowed the title concept from a comic (might have been Robert Klein but can't recall) who joked about setting up a foundation for New York Jews who didn't have a beach house. But that's the thought that popped into my head this morning as I read about Unithrive.org in the New York Times.
If you didn't read the article, entitled "I’m Going to Harvard. Will You Sponsor Me?", it describes what seems like a compelling program of peer-to-peer lending to students in need.
I'm a huge fan of peer lending and microlending programs. I've been a consistent supporter of Donor's Choose and am also a fan of Kiva. These programs bring transparency to the donation process and have demonstrated hugely impactful results. And I'm sure that Unithrive may provide similar benefits. But reading the article, you can't help but wonder how out of touch some of these people are.
I'll start with Unithive cofounder Joshua Kushner, quoted in the article as stating "I have friends who would spend 10 hours a week when they are not in class working at a coffee shop or in the dorms,” said Mr. Kushner, 24, referring to time that he considered wasteful. Josh is currently working at Goldman, Sachs and will soon be entering Harvard Business School.
Now, Josh may feel that working in a coffee shop or in the dorms is a waste of time. And I'm sure there are others who might agree. But, I disagree. I spent five nights a week tending bar for most of my college years. And while you can argue that I may not have learned a lot serving beers and shots at O'Heaney's, it tought me how to manage my time and to be accountable for all aspects of my student life.
Nor do I feel much support for Ricky Kuperman, a Harvard sophomore also interviewed in the article. Ricky, a dancer, said in an interview that he wanted the $2,000 no-interest loan to visit Okinawa, Japan, in 2010 to spend time in the birthplace of karate. “If I don’t get the money, I will have to work longer next summer or during the term,” he said.“It will allow me to stay in shape and make getting cast in films or in dance projects that much more possible.”
These may all be wonderful opportunities, but they come off more than a bit tone-deaf, particularly in the current environment. College isn't necessarily about leading a privileged life where you can focus all your efforts on academics and adventure. College is about preparing for adulthood. It's about learning to live with others. It's about learning to make concessions and to work hard for the things that you want. The college years are also a great time to learn about real life - perhaps working at that coffee shop, Josh's friends might have the chance to meet a single mother who uses that job to put food on the table for her family. Perhaps it provides a dose of reality that Josh is unlikely to get at HBS or at Goldman.
My daughter is still a few years away from being ready for college. And while I don't want her to have to work five nights per week, I do want her to work during college, so that she continues to develop the values which will guide her adult life.
I have friends who had to take time off in the middle of college to earn enough money so they could finish up a year or two later. And I'd be happy to participate in a peer-lending program to help students be able to afford their tuition or rent. But sending a young person on a trip to the birthplace of karate or backpacking across Europe? Sorry, I'll direct my funds to Kiva or DonorsChoose in that case.
(Josh Kushner photo sourced from Gawker)