By Rashad Mulla, Broadside Correspondent

George Mason University is targeting an untapped group for private financial support: undergraduate seniors.

Through the Patriot Pigs program, a first-year project of the Office of Annual Giving, seniors are encouraged to collect spare change in a green piggy bank issued by Mason and give the funds to the school. So far, the school has distributed 4,000 piggy banks and received more than $1,000 from the approximately 100 already turned in, said Jewelle Daquin, assistant director at the Office of Annual Giving.

The program is optional, and the school accepts donations of any amount. Patriot Pig donations, like regular private donations, can be restricted or allocated to the department or program of the donor’s choice.

Student reaction has been mixed. Combined with rising tuition costs and other mandatory fees, some students disagree with the premise of the program — asking undergraduates, many of whom do not have full-time jobs, for money.

“I feel like paying for tuition and the other fees for labs should be enough funding, alongside state and alumni contributions,” said Adam Katkhouda, a senior accounting major. “I don’t think they’re asking the right people. Undergraduates are not that well-off.”

Chuck Soo-Hoo, a senior film and video studies major, said the roles should be reversed and the school should be doing more to help its graduating class.

“If the school asks me to donate money out of my own pocket, I just can’t, because I don’t have the cash for it,” he said. “I wouldn’t ask the graduating
class to donate money. They should target another group.”

In an informal survey completed by 60 Mason undergraduates, 53 students said they were unable or unwilling to donate to the school this year, due to their financial situations. However, 32 students said they would consider donating after graduation.

With the Patriot Pigs program, Mason hopes to emphasize the importance of donating to the school as a senior, Daquin said.

“We are trying to get seniors to give back before they transition to the alumni phase,” she said. “Making a gift back to the university is helping someone else move forward. It’s important to leave your mark wherever you are.”

Some students, who have donated to specific Mason programs, agree with this sentiment.

“The closer you are to the university, the more inclined you are to give back,” said Student Government Vice President Tyler King, a senior finance major. “Once you graduate, go off working, move away and get new friends, Mason will be but a memory.”

The Patriot Pigs program is part of a larger initiative to get seniors to donate to the school. According to Nell Barnes, associate director of the Office of Annual Giving, 148 seniors donated last year, and a handful have donated this year.

As Mason has suffered from severe budget cuts, private support has become more important.

“The cuts are the result of state revenues being less than anticipated over the last few years,” said Donna Kidd, associate vice president for the Office of Budget and Planning. “So reductions have had to occur in the allocations to state agencies.”

To absorb the 15 percent general fund budget cut in fiscal year 2010, the university reduced administrative unit budgets, on average, by 1.7 – 2 percent and academic unit budgets, on average, by 1.5 percent. Since fiscal year 2008, the state has slashed the university’s general fund budget by 35 percent, or $45.3 million.

Mason received a school record of $34.5 million in private donations the last fiscal year. This year, as of Feb. 28, private funding has netted the school more than $42 million in gifts and pledges.

However, private funding fluctuates yearly and does not single handedly offset the budget cuts, said Marc Broderick, vice president for University Development and Alumni Affairs. This is where the Patriot Pigs program comes in.

“The value of students supporting the university is priceless,” said Broderick.