For most people, a raise at work serves as a reward for a job well done and the opportunity for self-indulgence.

But for the University of Wisconsin System President Kevin Reilly and an increasing number of university officials throughout the nation, a raise is starting to serve an entirely different purpose.

According to Reilly, the UW Board of Regents approved a $73,000 raise for him in June, helping to keep his salary more competitive with other system and university presidents nationwide. Reilly then donated $70,000 of his raise to need-based financial aid, which would later be distributed to students throughout the UW System.

In 2006, Reilly said he and his wife created an endowment through the UW Foundation, to which they annually submit donations. This year, however, they donated an additional $70,000 to help struggling students.

“My wife and I have always been very conscious of the importance of higher education, and we wanted to make it possible for Wisconsin kids to feel like they could afford tuition at any UW institution,” Reilly said.

The money from Reilly’s endowment will make its way to UW System financial aid offices throughout the state and will reach the students most in need at each institution in the coming years.

According to UW-Madison assistant professor of educational policy studies Sara Goldrick-Rab, this type of donation to need-based financial aid is essential for the future of the nation.

“Increasingly, higher education is the only path for social mobility in America,” Goldrick-Rab said. “If students aren’t able to access higher education just because they don’t have the resources, the country won’t do as well as a whole.”

Reilly’s donation represents a growing national trend of university members getting involved with budget problems and need-based financial aid concerns at their institutions.

On Nov. 20, Chancellor Mark Wrighton of Washington University in St. Louis announced he would take a 5 percent cut from his base salary Jan. 1, 2008 and another 5 percent reduction July 1, 2008 to help with budgetary concerns.

President of the University of Pennsylvania Amy Gutmann and her husband made a $100,000 donation to support undergraduate research on Nov. 18.

Mark Emmert, president of the University of Washington, passed up a raise for this year, and Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, said he would accept a $100,000 pay cut.

The trend is becoming popular among Big Ten university presidents as well.

At Penn State University, President Graham Spanier and his wife increased their charitable commitment to the university by $700,000 this year, for a total of $1 million.

Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon and her husband have donated more than $2.5 million to the school since they graduated more than 30 years ago. Additionally, Simon has donated more than $600,000 since being named university president in 2005.

“President Simon and her husband have a long and broad commitment to philanthropy and have a philosophical commitment to giving back to society,” Terry Denbow, vice president of university relations at Michigan State, said. “Both she and her husband are alums and have an appreciation for what MSU has done for society and wanted to lead by example.”

Similar to Reilly, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman donated part of her annual pay increase in both 2006 and 2007 back to the university.

Within the UW System, staff and faculty members have become more engaged with need-based financial aid gifts as well.

In March 2008, the UW-Madison Faculty Senate passed a resolution encouraging faculty and staff members to get involved with the “Great People, Great Places” campaign, an initiative to increase need-based financial aid for UW System students, according to UW Director of Financial Aid Susan Fischer.

“This is the first time something like this has been done formally,” Fischer said. “By increasing the number of students from a variety of backgrounds, you enrich the diversity of a campus so students can learn as much outside the classroom as they do within.”

According to Reilly, the chancellors of UW institutions throughout the state all give back to their institution in one way or another and support a variety of fundraising efforts as well.

Reilly added he thinks need-based financial aid is crucial to the continued existence of higher education in the U.S.

“I think one of the geniuses of America as a country is that we encourage the broadest possible participation in education from all social and economic classes, especially in our higher education system,” Reilly said. “That’s been part of the reason that America has been so successful. If we lose that, we’ll lose part of what makes America so different from the rest of the world.”

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