72
  • Emailarticle
  • Writecomment

May Luck Follow You Your Like Alumni Magazine

By JULIE WEST JOHNSON

Those of us who have pursued higher education all know that if we were marooned in the heart of Conrad’s Africa, or alone and icebound in Ultima Thule, our college alumni offices would manage to track us down—and ask for money. It’s one of the constants in the universe. For all the nation’s colleges, from Harvard and William and Mary, both founded in the seventeenth century, to our newest post-millennial institutions, “the alumni association” is an entity of great importance, a campus’s lifeblood. Indeed, in a tight economy, universities are depending more than ever on the generosity of their graduates. Happily, campuses remain a frequent beneficiary of philanthropic largesse. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, nearly half of the 65 gifts of $5 million or more made in the United States in 2010 went to colleges or universities, most commonly to the alma mater of the donor (cited in Charlotte Allen’s “Why Do the Big Donors Give?” in Minding the Campus, April 25, 2011).
   
Most of us, of course, give smaller sums. And while we don’t get a building named after us, or an endowed chair, these days we do receive significant benefits in exchange, if we choose to take advantage of them.
  
The range of what alumni associations offer to their members has expanded enormously in the last ten or fifteen years. Some have actually set up as dues-paying clubs. At the University of California at Davis, for example, one of the ten campuses in California’s university structure, alumni now pay an annual $50 ($700 lifetime) for membership in the alumni club. According to Rita Lundin, Assistant to the Executive Director, in exchange for their dues alums receive a library card valid at any of the ten Cal campuses; discounts on hotels, car rentals, and Disneyland; the opportunity to participate in seminars, dinners, trips, and webinars. Stanford University offers a similar array of benefits to alums who pay $95 annually ($595 lifetime) for membership in its association; 90,000 alumni have chosen to join. Most alumni associations, however, do not require dues. Northwestern University maintains 70 clubs around the world, and according to Amanda Sloan, NU’s Director of Alumni Clubs, members pay no dues; individual groups meet as often as ten times a year for cultural and educational outings, such as the Washington, D.C. branch’s recent tour of the Ethiopian embassy. Other major schools in the Chicago area—the University of Chicago, Loyola, DePaul, and the University of Illinois—have also avoided the dues approach and grant any alum automatic membership.
   
Current offerings for alums at these local universities certainly reflect trends in the larger culture. For one thing, the schools have all rushed to use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as instant ways to stay in contact with graduates. Colleen Fashing, Associate Director of Alumni Relations at DePaul, notes that DePaul currently has 145,000 alumni, one-third of whom live in other states and in 80 countries around the globe. Electronic media make it possible to stay in quick touch with these people and to offer them online experiences. Kathy Quinlan, Director of Operations and Strategy in the alumni office at Northwestern, points out that this also saves an alumni office a great deal of money on postage.
   
The most striking development in recent years may be the vast array of job counseling and networking opportunities alumni offices now offer their graduates, necessitated by the economic downturn. Nicole Meehan, Director of Alumni Relations at Chicago’s Loyola, stresses that at Loyola demand for these services has led to a proliferation of career-related courses in continuing education, as well as to an assortment of webinars and employment services. Along the same lines, DePaul in 2009 began a program called “Corporate Connectors,” which taps into alumni in the work force, calling upon them to provide information, interviews, and networking experiences for other DePaul alums. According to Colleen Fashing, the program has been so successful that it now involves alumni in over 300 companies around the world, all of whom have agreed to help other DePaul alums with career issues.
   
Alumni trips are yet another trend of recent years. According to Kathy Quinlan, Northwestern offered around 50 organized travel opportunities last year, most featuring faculty speakers and guides. Among University of Chicago and Loyola alums, too, such trips are
popular, both for their educational worth and for the background bond participants know they share with their fellow travelers.
   
In addition, the local campuses all offer university library cards to their alums (though frequently not with borrowing privileges) and sometimes insurance deals. Northwestern, for example, offers its graduates competitive prices on medical, homeowner’s, and long-term care insurance. NU also has its own credit card program.
   
Alma mater, in Latin, means “fostering mother.” When campuses continue to nurture their graduates, they reap the monetary contributions that keep them thriving. It’s a fine symbiosis.

Published: October 01, 2011
Issue: November 2011 Issue