Alumni Advocacy Gains Momentum
Around the globe, social upheavals and disruptions on campuses have cast an even brighter spotlight on higher education. Now more than ever, institutions need alumni to speak up on key issues and about the importance of education—and alumni are answering the call.
Alumni advocacy entails informing, empowering, and mobilizing alumni to support legislative, regulatory, or social issues. Institutions’ work to engage alumni as legislative advocates picked up steam in the 2000s in the United States during the recession. Since then, the stakes have only gotten higher. In the U.S., states have sliced funding for higher education while, since 2008, tuition has risen 35% for public four-year and two-year colleges, and 30% for private four-year colleges, according to the College Board. Around the globe, students have protested education funding decisions—in Canada, Gabon, and South Africa, for example, in the first half of 2019.
On top of funding challenges—or related to them—public confidence in higher education has been shaken in the last decade: Only half of American adults say they have strong confidence in it, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. Universities around the globe—including European ones faced with changes brought by globalization, Brexit, and immigration policies, as well as funding challenges—have launched campaigns to demonstrate their relevance.
“We see these headlines where legislators are cutting back on higher education and they’re being critical of it,” says Elizabeth Saxman Underwood, senior director of alumni engagement and annual giving at the University of North Carolina Asheville, who studied alumni advocacy for her 2012 doctoral research. “We need to educate our alumni now more than ever to tell the impact.”
Who better to tell that story than alumni?
For instance, the University of Washington called on alumni to testify at the Washington State Senate during the April 2019 legislative session as lawmakers considered a proposal that would be a game-changer for Washington students.
With support from education, business, and community leaders, the Workforce Education Investment Act passed in April. Experts say with this legislation, Washington has gone further than any U.S. state to address college affordability. And it happened, in part, because alumni were empowered to advocate for and share the value of higher education.
Around the globe, institutions are empowering alumni to speak out as advocates in a variety of ways. The University of Sheffield called on its community to champion international students. Linn-Benton Community College in Oregon hosts town hall meetings for alumni, students, and community members to meet with lawmakers. The University of Florida brings is Gator mascots to legislative advocacy days at the Florida capital.
Explore more in the September/October issue of Currents.
Alumni Advocacy: Key Resources
Are you interested in starting an alumni advocacy program at your school? Learn how from this a panel of professionals leading alumni advocacy programs.
Stay informed and weigh in on legislative and regulatory issues affecting educational advancement worldwide.
Learn about key advocacy issues and find resources.
Explore this volunteer group of higher education professionals who share resources and connect about advocacy.
About the author(s)
Meredith Barnett is the manager, digital communications at CASE.