Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Thomas E. Miller, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer S. Schneider, Ph.D.

Committee Member

W. Robert Sullins, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer R. Wolgemuth, Ph.D.


alumni preparation, fundraising, higher education, involvement, student experience


Alumni participation in the life of an institution is more important now than ever before as state and federal funding continue to shrink and alumni are called on for financial support and to serve as resources for current students. Institutional leaders are hard-pressed to bring in external revenue to bridge the gap as budgets shrink to successfully balance operational costs (Barr & McClellan, 2011), which is done mostly through fundraising efforts targeted toward parents of students, alumni and often current students before they graduate to establish a culture of philanthropy. This need for external revenue increases the necessity for engaged alumni to assume the increasingly important role of financially supporting their alma maters to maintain financial well-being, both present day and long into the future (Johnson & Eckel, 1998; Monks, 2003; Wunnava & Lauze, 2001). Not all alumni are inclined to remain involved or support their alma maters for a variety of reasons, and alumni relations personnel are tasked with engaging alumni through various opportunities to strengthen their relationship with the institution with the hopeful intent to create prospective lifelong donors (Wunnava & Lauze, 2001).

The purpose of this qualitative study was to better understand students’ perceptions regarding their future role as alumni, their expectations of the institution in facilitating the alumni role, and what they believed would be their relationship with the institution following graduation. The vast majority of research regarding alumni engagement and giving behavior has been quantitative, which sheds light on only part of the phenomenon and limits the general body of knowledge. Quantitative studies have looked at demographic variables of engaged alumni who give back to their alma mater, but such studies have not provided detailed insight into how the student experience affects behavior as alumni and how students develop an understanding of their role as alumni. Qualitative research can help uncover some of the personal beliefs students have about the alumni experience, which will provide a stronger foundation for future quantitative studies as potential hypotheses develop for later testing.

At the conclusion of this study, 11 participants completed in-depth interviews through either face-to-face or online interviews, sharing invaluable information regarding their expectations and perceptions regarding life after graduation. This study revealed that graduating seniors’ perceptions and expectations regarding their role and relationship with their alma mater as alumni remain uncertain due to a lack of knowledge about alumni life. Nonetheless, students shared positive feelings regarding giving and getting involved as alumni—especially in terms of their preference of giving their time over money to the institution. By understanding students’ perceptions about their anticipated relationship following graduation, institutions can best identify where in the student experience to educate students about their role as alumni and understand what students expect when they become alumni. All of this can be done before they transition to alumnihood in order to tailor services, benefits, and activities to effectively engage alumni in ways they want, meeting both the expectations of the institution and the greater alumni body. As the first qualitative study from the student perspective regarding their anticipated alumni role, relationship with the institution, and inclination to give and get involved, this study provides a salient starting point for determining how best to prepare future alumni for life after graduation.