Show Of Hands Showcase: Alumni Engagement Amongst Non-Degree Learners

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Dene Sheheane (Georgia Tech) used CAAE’s Show of Hands tool earlier this winter to ask members the following question: Does your Alumni Association provide non-degree learners (professional education, certificate programs, etc.) access to alumni programming? He shares his findings, here.

By Dene Sheheane, President, Georgia Tech Alumni Association 

The Georgia Tech Alumni Association recently held a “Show of Hands” for feedback from peer alumni associations regarding engagement from non-degreed learners. These alumni would include those who had completed a certificate program or professional development course, but do not hold an undergraduate or graduate degree from that institution.

“Non-degree students are passionate learners, and that passion can also extend to their feelings about the school or university they’re attending,” said Dene Sheheane, President of the Georgia Tech Alumni Association. “We wanted to find out how other organizations were reaching out to this particular group of constituents from both a programming and fundraising perspective.”

Eleven alumni organizations participated in the “Show of Hands” discussion: University of Chicago, McMaster University, Johns Hopkins University, Iowa State University, UC Davis, University of Alberta, University of North Carolina, Columbia University, University of Maryland, University of Texas, and University of Michigan. The organizations were asked a variety of questions focusing on alumni categorization and non-degree specific programming, fundraising, and board participation opportunities. 

Non-degree students are passionate learners, and that passion can also extend to their feelings about the school or university they’re attending.

Key Learnings

  1. Naming conventions for various types of alumni were varied. Though “alumni” remained the most standard, all-encompassing title to cover the various group categories, other terminology included “friends,” “associate members,” and “associate alumni.”
  2. Fundraising opportunities targeting non-degree learners were often overlooked by most organizations, though some did say they did target depending on the level of involvement. For example, friends of the university, parents or family of students were both noted for fundraising opportunities by several organizations, with one mentioning certificate holders would likely be targeted by their specific school.   
  3. For programs, nearly all of the organizations did not offer non-degree learner specific programs or events. Some did refer to non-degree learners as “friends” and noted that while some events were “members only,” there were open events where friends and family were welcome to attend.   
  4. When asked if non-degree learners could serve on alumni boards or be appointed to committees that work within the college or university, the responses were split. Many pointed out it was not prohibited, but it would be a rare occurrence; while others said that in order to serve on alumni-specific boards they would have to meet the definition of being an alumni (undergraduate or graduate degree holders in most instances). Serving on donor-based boards or committees was also mentioned as an option for non-degree learners. 

Though traditionally alumni organizations might target only undergraduate or graduate degree holders as part of their programming and fundraising campaigns, non-degree learners offer an additional opportunity to broaden membership and increase participation. 

“It would seem that extending the definition of what an alumnus or alumna actually is offers a new opportunity for alumni associations,” Sheheane said. “By bringing non-degree learners into the fold, we can increase involvement, expand fundraising opportunities, and continue to foster positive feelings about our organization to all who attend our universities.”

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