Alumni associations have always played a vital and integral role in the success of HBCUs and small liberal arts colleges. Traditionally, those roles kept alumni engaged and promoted the institutions' general welfare. However, because these institutions now face many new challenges to maintain their existence, there is a dire need for greater connections with their alumni, students, and friends. Alumni associations must now assist these institutions in dealing with, among other things:
Improving low institutional endowments
Handling management, operational, and financial challenges
Increasing recruitment and retention of alumni support
And for building stronger alumni-student connections
To help these institutions maintain their relevance and continue their existence alumni associations can:
Establish and maintain purposeful, meaningful, and focused alignments with the institution. It is critically important for associations to coordinate efforts to help move the institution in one direction and achieve its mission and purpose. Developing deeper relationships with the institutions' senior leaders is paramount to working collaboratively on initiatives that benefit the institution's community.
Increase alumni engagement and participation in the institution's welfare and programs. Associations and its members are brand ambassadors. They can serve as advocates for the institution in many ways, particularly in areas of student recruitment. Associations should take advantage of easy engagement opportunities with alumni members by leveraging their expertise to achieve beneficial outcomes and by providing value-added programs to enhance the lives of its alumni members on personal, professional, or social levels.
Lastly, alumni associations can offer mentorship opportunities for students. Alumni members are doing this in a vacuum with affinity groups and other organizations. Studies show that mentoring students early in their college careers can help decrease the number of years in college, increase graduation rates, and increase the probability of creating opportunities for students to obtain full-time employment upon graduation. Alumni associations' involvement in mentorship opportunities and programs can be a great way to keep associations and members engaged with institutions.
HBCUs and small liberal arts colleges continue to face many challenges, and they will not subside anytime soon—or ever. It is incumbent upon institutions to maintain open, transparent, and effective communication with their respective associations. Close relationships and connectivity among institutions and alumni associations help keep alumni members engaged. Those members become invaluable resources to help institutions navigate through and overcome the many challenges they may face. A strong and active alumni organization can become one of the "Aces in the Hole" for an institution.