Successful Community College Alumni Programs

Article excerpt

As state funding for community colleges continues not to keep pace with programming needs, more community colleges are taking the initiative to seek funding from private sources. Four-year colleges and universities hove tong used alumni programs as major outside sources of funding. Since a high percentage of today's students embark on their higher education experience at the community college, it is natural for more two-year institutions to begin alumni programs. Based on in-depth interviews with directors of successful community college alumni programs, this article suggests 'best practices for community colleges that are considering the development of an alumni program. It offers practical and relevant ideas for practitioners and institutional leaders, including changes being planned in existing programs to ensure continued success.

Introduction

It has always been a challenge and a conundrum for community college leaders that so many community college graduates who attain high-level positions often forget the community college when it is time to donate money. These successful people who often began their academic careers in the community college usually give their allegiance-and their money--to the four-year institution to which they transferred (Sullenger, 1976). Today, however, almost half of all college undergraduates in the United States attend community colleges; and these students represent future "success stories" which should become a strong source of expertise, networking, community college advocacy, and fund-raising. Community colleges must do a better job of maintaining relationships with their alumni, not only for financial purposes, but also to help inform the community, the nation, and our political leaders how community colleges are making a difference in millions of people's lives (Herbin, Dittman, Herbert, & Ebben 2006).

There have, however, been few empirical studies investigating successful community college alumni programs. Studies specifically focusing on the factors that affect the success of a community college alumni program are almost non-existent. This study, therefore, examined successful alumni programs in the North Carolina community college system with the goal of finding "best practices" that could assist practitioners attempting to start or revitalize community college alumni programs elsewhere. The analysis investigates the factors that contribute to the success of community college alumni programs, including how successful programs were established, how they are currently operating, and any planned changes to ensure continued success in the future.

Background

In North Carolina, community college foundation directors identified alumni relations as a priority area for which they would like more assistance (Currier, 2006). Alumni programs within the community college system are a relatively new trend (Kerns & Witter, 1997). Forman (1989) presented an historical account of the first alumni organization in 1792 at Yale University. The administrators at Yale appointed class secretaries to gather information for publication in a series of newsletters to be mailed to alumni. These newsletters and activities quickly led to two outcomes: the solicitation of alumni for donations, and the creation of a local club and chapter. The next alumni program was formed during the 1821 graduation commencement of Williams College where a society of alumni organized to influence and encourage support from those the College had educated. Soon other universities followed the lead and began creating their own alumni programs. Kerns and Witter (1997) named Princeton as the first organization to set a goal of trying to raise $100,000 in 1832. The first public university to form an alumni organization was the University of Michigan in 1897. The first reported date for an alumni program in a two-year college is 1935, but the potential of the alumni program was never fully understood until recently; sixty percent of two-year college alumni programs have been established since 1980 (Kerns & Witter, 1997). …