As if keeping track of 136,000 Kansas University graduates wasn't enough, the Kansas University Alumni Association plans to step up its lobbying efforts this year and will consider building a retirement center in Lawrence.
And that's only a small part of the wide array of services the association offers for its 45,000 members.
"The association exists to be supportive of the university," said Kirk Cerny, director of membership services. "With so many alumni we serve and so many interests those alumni have, we offer a variety of programs to get alumni involved in the life of the institution and in keeping them connected with the institution."
In addition to its traditional events and duties, the KU Alumni Association this year plans to investigate whether to build an "continuing-care retirement center" in Lawrence, President Fred Williams said.
The association will hire a consulting firm to help determine the feasibility of such a center. The University of Nebraska has a similar center slated for construction after 2003, and the University of Texas has completed a study for a similar project.
Williams said many KU alumni are returning to Lawrence to retire. With more baby boomers heading toward retirement, the time might be right.
"We have some retirement communities already in Lawrence, but is there a need for more?" Williams asked.
Williams said the association also plans to rely more on its Jayhawks for Higher Education, a committee formed to lobby the Kansas Legislature. Mobilizing KU graduates, he said, can be an effective lobbying tool.
"We have a wonderful university, but the Legislature seemingly has a hard time funding its basic needs," he said. "We hear some legislators say, 'We're overlobbied.' Well, we're not overfunded yet."
The alumni association, which was founded in 1883, has 32 full-time staff members and operates on a $4.5 million annual budget, most of which comes from membership dues and endowed gifts.
KU ranks in the top 10 in the country for percentage of alumni involved in its alumni association, said Sheila Immel, senior vice president for membership. About 30 percent of KU graduates are members; the national average is closer to 20 percent, she said.
"We have a very loyal constituency," she said.
The alumni association keeps records on 450,000 people who have been associated with the university everyone from graduates and professors to occasional students and season-ticket holders.
And it's always working to keep records up-to-date.
"We proudly know where 92 percent of our degree-holders are at any time," Cerny said. "We keep efficient records and have a good staff. We keep track as people move from place to place or have little Jayhawks-to-be."
The biggest concentration of KU alumni is in the Kansas City area, where about one-quarter of all graduates reside. Other large pockets are in Douglas County, Kan., plus Wichita, Chicago, southern California, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The alumni association's main goal is connecting Jayhawks with other Jayhawks. One method is through supporting 83 alumni chapters across the country.
"Those chapters serve as local outposts for Jayhawks, where it's for social needs or alumni records or mentors," Cerny said. "These chapters also serve as a home away from home for Jayhawks and as contacts for university needs."
The association also offers professional society meetings, where KU deans and faculty members meet with graduates across the country to discuss new developments at the university.
Another connection method is finding ways for alumni to volunteer at the university. Hawk-to-Hawk, a mentoring program in its third year, pairs professionals with students on campus. The association also helps find alumni to fill positions on departmental advisory boards.
Alumni also benefit through the Flying Jayhawks program. The association offers 40 trips per year to destinations throughout the world. Between 500 and 800 people attend one or more of the vacations annually.
Other events and programs include: Gold Medal Weekend, a set of annual alumni gatherings in April; Rock Chalk Ball, an annual bash in the Kansas City area; and the Kansas Honors Program, which honors more than 3,500 high school seniors who are in the top 10 percent of their classes each year.
But for many graduates, the Kansas Alumni magazine, which is published six times a year, offers their main connection to KU. The magazine will celebrate its 100th birthday in January.
Cerny said, "While many alumni enjoy the chapters, the professional society meetings, and the reunions, a fair number of them look at the alumni magazine as their way to connect to the university, which is fine."
Immel said getting new graduates to join the alumni association is a challenge that's growing each year.
New graduates receive a free six-month membership. For the next three years, the regular membership fee $40 for a single membership and $50 for a family is reduced to $25 for a single and $30 for a family.
The association also has two programs in place to educate students about its programs. Tradition Keepers, now in its third year, had 850 student-members last year. Participants receive KU merchandise and information on KU's history.
About 70 students were involved last year in the Student Alumni Association, which started 15 years ago. Members focus on community service, including hosting an ice cream social in the fall and working on the Kansas Honors Program.
Janet Martin McKinney, who chairs the association's board of directors, said the young graduates can lose touch with the university if they don't join the alumni association.
"When you graduate, you want to get away from finals and studying," she said. "But you still want to remain close to those people you went to school with. If you aren't a member after you graduate, you lose track of those people."
McKinney, a 1974 archaeology graduate who now lives in Port Ludlow, Wash., said the association is a way to keep the crimson and blue flowing in alumni's blood, no matter where they live.
"Especially if you're at a distant location, you feel part of something," she said. "I think you keep young at heart, too, when you know you're supporting Kansas kids that are good and bright that you can help good students attend a top-notch university."