Engaging your alumni

By AACC 21st Century Center Staff

Community college alumni often are an untapped resource.

Community colleges serve nearly half of the total undergraduate population in the United States. Two-year colleges can be the stepping stone to a four-year degree, a good career, or, for some, fame and fortune. Tom Hanks? Amy Tan? Nolan Ryan? They all got their start at community colleges. In 2015, Hanks wrote an opinion piece about getting his start at Chabot College in California. The title of the piece was “I Owe It All to Community College.” Ryan and his wife continuously raise money for — and awareness of — their alma mater in Texas, Alvin Community College.

But your alumni don’t have to be world-famous actors/authors/athletes to be effective advocates for your institution.

“Alumni represent the largest untapped pool of prospective donors, and the success of alumni giving at 4-year institutions illustrates the potential that exists for community colleges,” Lisa Skari wrote in a 2013 piece, “Community College Alumni: Predicting Who Gives.” Skari is the vice president for institutional advancement at Washington’s Highline College, and executive director of the college’s foundation.

Often, it’s not that alumni don’t want to get involved; it’s that they haven’t been asked.

The difficulty comes in tracking those alumni. When a community college student transfers to a four-year institution before graduating, it’s easy to lose track. When a community college graduate becomes successful, that person may be more inclined to engage with his or her four-year alma mater. More and more, community colleges are hiring alumni relations directors and using alumni newsletters and social media to connect with alumni – not only for funding, but also for recruitment and advocacy efforts.

“Not all alumni will have the resources to provide financial support. However, all should be asked in the same way to serve as advocates, ambassadors and volunteers,” Melissa Starace, the former director of alumni affairs at Pennsylvania’s Northampton Community College, wrote in her 2012 dissertation. Starace is now the interim vice president of university advancement at the University of Scranton.

Each year, AACC recognizes alumni with its Outstanding Alumni Awards. It’s a humbling experience to hear from the refugee who is founded a successful business, or the inventor who is working to save lives, or the wanderer who found his passion thanks to the faculty at a community college. It shows that community colleges are changing lives.

Think about your college’s alumni. Think about their stories. Think about how best to engage them – then make the ask.

AACC’s Outstanding Alumni Awards will begin accepting nominations soon. Check the AACC website for details.

AACC 21st Century Center Staff

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.