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Happy Campers

Reliving college years with the grandkids in tow brings alumni back to campus

By Laura Daily

A Central Michigan University alumna helps her grandchild build a basket for the egg drop competition during Grandparents U (Photo credit: Claire Abendroth/Central Michigan University).

Grandkids could be the secret weapon for getting alumni back to a rural campus. Each June, Central Michigan University hosts Grandparents U, a three-day residential summer camp for more than 250 alumni and their grandchildren, ages 8 to 12. During the day, they attend classes together, and in the evenings, they visit the Student Activity Center, take in a movie, or enjoy quality family time.

CMU faculty and staff volunteer to teach 40 courses. Designed to be kid-friendly but engage grown-ups, the 90-minute classes range from Mind-Blowing Psychology Experiments to Kids, Lemonade and Lawns: Starting Your First Summer Business. Participants list their top 10 choices during enrollment and get assigned five. Campus police teach one of the most popular classes: Do You Want to Investigate Crimes and Keep People Safe? Taking fingerprints and blaring sirens are way cool.

At $150 per adult and $125 per child, the institution charges enough to break even. "It's not about making a profit but a way to engage with alumni who might not have been back to campus in 30 years," says Annie Sanders, associate director of alumni relations. The program also boosts giving. About 5 percent of alumni give to CMU, while 65 percent of Grandparents U attendees are donors, and 45 percent became donors after attending the camp. Marketing is minimal, with word-of-mouth information and a Facebook page replacing costlier mailings. As they check out of their dorms, many grads ask, "When does enrollment open for next year?"

(Return to Advance Work contents page)

About the Author Laura Daily

Laura Daily is a journalist based in Denver, Colorado. She co-founded the personal finance website Living on the Cheap and publishes the site Mile High on the Cheap.




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