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Volume 2, Issue 12

Growing Community College Alumni Relations

New award-winning research shows that community college presidents and advancement staffs believe that alumni programs improve institutional affinity among former and current students.

Melissa Starace, director of alumni affairs at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa., recently wrote her dissertation about how—in an era of diminished state and community resources—community college presidents, advancement professionals and alumni volunteers are developing and defining meaningful and philanthropic relationships with their institution's alumni.

The main challenge to building a robust alumni program described in Starace's research is the "transactional" student experience at many community colleges. She describes community college students as "nomads" who wander to and from an institution "in search of greener pastures that might take the form of more valuable degree choices, career options and personal and professional enrichment." By contrast, she describes university students as "settlers" who make a conscious choice to pursue "a traditional four-year residential collegiate experience culminating in graduation and specific career opportunities."

Throughout her dissertation—which recently won CASE's H.S. Warwick Research Award in Alumni Relations for Educational Advancement—Starace cites the work of college presidents, advancement professionals and volunteers at five Pennsylvania community colleges who are trying to transform their "nomads" into "settlers."

Among the research's chief findings is the powerful extent to which presidents are responsible for the success of their institution's alumni engagement efforts.

"Presidents need to be on board," says Starace in an interview with Community College Advancement News. "You have to have grit and show you're willing to go to the board and faculty and say that investing in alumni is important."

She suggests presidents seeking to establish or re-establish an alumni engagement program consider:

  • Developing an integrated advancement model. "In this integrated model, the roles of the alumni and development professionals are blurred, with all advancement being responsible for alumni and donor engagement, cultivation, communication, giving and stewardship activities," she writes. "In addition, alumni programs should align with the foundation in order to send a clear message that the institution is seeking to engage alumni as donors."
  • Engaging alumni on multiple levels at the onset of alumni outreach efforts. "Community college advancement professionals should consider establishing donor relationships at the same time that they are seeking to engage alumni as advocates, ambassadors and volunteers," Starace writes. "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."

Please share your questions and comments with Marc Westenburg via email at or +1 202 478 5570.

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This article is from the June 2013 issue of the Community College Advancement News.