U graduates join Alumni Association in record numbers

by Stacy Jo

Many more people than usual have been identifying themselves as University graduates lately.
For the first time since its inception in 1904, the University Alumni Association can boast more than 40,000 dues-paying members, up more than 13,000 members since 1994. The association is shooting for 50,000 by the next century.
Association officials attribute the growth to increased membership solicitation, rather than increased graduation rates.
“People like to identify with things that are going well and there’s a tremendous perception that things are going very well at the University,” said Dave Mona, association president.
The organization, which has 50 chapters nationwide and 17 internationally, touts two central missions: Enhance students’ educational experience and build pride and spirit at the University.
But aiming to take advantage of what alumni association officials call “good times” for pride and spirit on campus, they say now is the best time to push their upper limits even further.
Association officials have made the lofty goal of reaching 50,000 members by the end of the 2000-01 academic year, nearly doubling the number of members the organization claimed just four years ago.
“Unless you have an aggressive number, you don’t have the opportunity to do great things,” Mona said.
With T-shirts, signs and literature emblazoned with “50,000 by 2000,” the group is not keeping their goal a secret. Extensive telemarketing efforts and public service announcements also contribute to the organization’s intention of making its goal public.
“We haven’t been subtle,” said Margaret Carlson, association executive director.
Aside from aggressive campaigning, officials credit several outside factors with the recent membership explosion.
Elise Schadauer, association director of marketing and membership, said the University had a rather gray, drab campus when she graduated from it in 1984. However, the aesthetic campus improvements like flowers and colorful signage have encouraged alumni to take pride in the University, she said.
“It’s a maroon and gold experience now,” Schadauer said. “This is not a hard sell anymore.”
Officials hope the University Gateway — the organization’s future home, slated for opening in fall 1999 — will give alumni representatives a more identifiable presence on campus, as well as a more direct line to students.
While the organization aims to attract as many members as possible, officials said some of the target recruitment audiences are faculty and staff, recent University graduates and the parents of current students. The latter group constitutes one of the fastest-growing memberships, as parents attempt to stay in touch with their students.
Beyond their massive recruiting efforts in the past few years, organization officials have worked to make progress in several other areas as well.
One of their proudest efforts was extensive lobbying of legislators in support of last year’s budget request. The group marshaled nearly 3,000 alumni who called, wrote or spoke to legislators in hopes of obtaining funds that would directly impact current and future University students, Mona said.
In addition to assisting the Office of Admissions in recruiting students, the organization works to match students with alumni mentors. Officials matched 4,100 students with mentors last year and hope to increase that number to 4,500 this year.
After realizing the unprecedented level of 40,000 members, officials expressed little doubt about garnering another 10,000 members.