Utah Valley University isn’t the same school it was 15 years ago. And while that means more alumni are leaving with four-year degrees in hand, it also means the university is turning to new approaches to get alumni involved with the university, and hopefully turn them into future donors.
“I think there is going to be a lot less phone calling,” said Scott Cooksey, UVU’s vice president of institutional advancement. “Millennials don’t answer the phone.”
What is known today as UVU started 78 years ago as a vocational school. It’s evolved in the decades since, gaining students, land and programs, until it began offering its first four-year degrees in the 1990s. It gained university status in 2008.
That growth has led to two sets of alumni, those who receive a two-year degree or certificate, and an expanding set of graduates who leave with a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
While the university treats both sets of alumni the same, Cooksey said graduates who received associate’s degrees tend to have more allegiance for the school they received a bachelor’s degree from.
“The problem you have on every campus is that students don’t understand that they are alumni,” said Kevin Walkenhorst, the senior director of alumni relations at UVU. “They think you have to graduate to be an alumni or alumnus of the university.”
Walkenhorst said students become alumni once they have 24 credit hours, which happens in their sophomore year.
Forming relationships begin long before the students sit down for commencement. The university begins to get students involved through two annual events, a food drive, and a student-to-student giving campaign to raise money for first-generation student scholarships. This year’s campaign, called 2518 after the price of tuition, aimed to rally 2,518 donors. Walkenhorst said the campaign ended with about 2,000 donors collectively raising about $19,000, most of which came from students.
Walkenhorst said it’s a way to show students they can give back to their classmates and stress that it doesn’t matter how much they donate, but that they have a giving heart.
“We help them understand that giving is a choice,” Walkenhorst said. “That is your choice and you don’t need to feel bad about it if you don’t give, because everyone is at a different stage of life.”
The university will also call around commencement to see if students want to give a financial gift. Walkenhorst said many students donated $20.19 to celebrate the year they graduated.
The idea is that if students are engaged with the university while they’re students, that will lead to active alumni.
“It is really important before you ask for money to establish some kind of a relationship,” Walkenhorst said.
He said the university’s surveys have shown that alumni are interested in networking opportunities, career help and deals. The alumni’s association app links graduates with traditions and gives them access to deals in Orem, New York City and London.
The amount of engagement has increased in the last decade as alumni attendance at homecoming events has more than tripled to 3,000 to 5,000 students. Walkenhorst said he expect to see alumni engagement double within the next three to five years.
Although 69% of UVU’s graduates live in Utah County, the association is seeing success with alumni association chapters in Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
There are more than 4,000 UVU alumni in Arizona, according to Steve Beck, a former president of the alumni association’s Arizona chapter.
“There are a lot of families here who love sending their kids to UVU,” he said.
Beck, who lives in Mesa, Arizona, graduated from the institution in 1998 and is a former student body president.
The organization will see a couple hundred people at events throughout the year, which include a back-to-school kickoff for UVU students from Arizona, gatherings at sports events and movie nights.
He’s seen the chapter continue to grow as the university has.
“I think as the school has evolved and grown, and added more degrees and programs, that it has definitely helped to build that base and people’s affiliation with the school,” Beck said.
Alumni association chapters are established based off geography and disciplines, according to Cooksey. The UVU Alumni Association is not due-based.
Cooksey said the association is utilizing sporting events and the arts to keep alumni engaged and interested in donating.
“We want alumni to give back and whether that give back is $35 or $50, it has to start somewhere, and we want some of those alumni to turn into major donors and help us build business buildings, and some things, and increase our endowment,” Cooksey said.
The majority of graduates who have received a bachelor’s or master’s degree are still fairly early in their careers, which has led most of UVU’s top donors being individuals who did not attend the university. That trend extends to the university’s board of trustees and the alumni association board.
“Most of the board did not go to school here, but they are tied to the school in other ways,” Cooksey said. “That will change over time.”
The university has also introduced a young alumni board.
He wants to see an alumni association that is active and supportive of the university, and not just financially. His end goal is to see two UVU graduates who are in a room together, no matter where in the country, gravitate towards each other.
“That is where I want this to go, and that’s not going to happen in one year or two years, but we have to start,” Cooksey said.