At the start of each school year, fundraisers are ubiquitous across the country. From cookie dough and wrapping paper to magazines and chocolate-covered pretzels, items are sold to family, friends, and neighbors to raise money for various school projects. In the past, students have been able to redeem their sales for assorted trinkets, plastic novelties, and the occasional gift card. This year, however, many fundraiser organizations began to offer a lesson in delayed gratification. And that lesson failed miserably.
At the start of each school year, the fundraiser salespeople host a pep assembly for our students (the soon-to-be sales representatives). They outline where the money goes (library books, athletic equipment, technology resources), how to fundraise safely, and what prizes can be earned. In the past, the grand-prize has been a recess spent in a mobile video game truck with your friends. This year, it was a $1,000 tuition credit at over 300 colleges and universities.
To add to the excitement, the host pointed out that many students participate in these school fundraisers for nine years, starting in kindergarten and selling through eighth grade. That would be an easy $9,000 slashed off a tuition bill. Think of the incredible favor you’d be doing your future self. What’s not to love?
Apparently a lot. This year, there was nary a clap in the crowd when the grand prize was announced. As a result, they promised to throw in a light-up disco ball to sweeten the pot. By the end of the fundraiser, sales were lower than ever. See, it turns out that when you’re eleven years old, college isn’t on your radar. High school seems to be eons away. Students are so deeply entrenched in figuring out how to open their lockers, what to order in the cafeteria, and where to turn in their homework, that they’re not thinking about the future. At least not the distant future.
They’re also well-entrenched in a society that has been preaching instant gratification to them since birth. This generation of students has never had to wait for anything. Forget dial up. Most of them don’t even know what a landline is. Nevermind researching in a library book. Just Google it. Want something? Buy it. Can’t afford it? Go into debt.
It’s not their fault, really. They’ve just never been taught and society certainly does not model delayed gratification. So what’s the solution? Like most issues involving our youth, there isn’t a simple solution. As far as a starting point, though, I imagine it has to do with talking to kids about spending, school, savings really early on. Otherwise, students will forever forgo delayed gratification and instead elect to redeem their prize credits for light-up plastic discos balls.