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What your alumni association can do for you

Are you paying too much when you stay at a hotel, rent a car or buy tickets to your alma mater's football game?

You may be if you're not a member of your school's alumni association.

Although the concept of being an alum may be new to you, the idea of being true to your school has been around for years. Alumni associations have been around since the early 1800s. And although the mission statements vary from school to school, alumni associations are created mainly to serve as a liaison between graduates and their university. These organizations nurture relationships among the university community, the community at-large and alumni.

Besides cultivating these relationships, alumni association members get some wallet support as well. With a quick call to your alma mater's alumni affairs department or a look at their Web site, you'll discover that alumni associations have much more to offer than just the quarterly alumni magazine. They hold some reward for surviving the world of academia.

Discounts, discounts and more discounts
Some alumni associations aim to make life easier for new graduates by providing access to health insurance for before they get that benefit-laden new job. Additionally, alumni groups tend to offer perks like discounts on rental cars and hotels to their members.

Recent graduates of Michigan State University will receive a one-year complimentary alumni membership. For a $45 annual single membership or a $700 lifetime membership, members receive insurance discounts; a 15 to 30 percent discount at various inns, hotels and motels; a 5 to 30 percent discount on car rentals; and a discount on all alumni association special events, including homecoming and pre-football game events.

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"We wanted to provide benefits to alumni so that they will have a reason to join besides just being alumni," says Robert Bao, editor of MSU's alumni magazine says. "We've gotten feedback from alumni who would have paid for the membership with only two of the benefits alone."

Like MSU, the benefits at California State University at Sacramento are nothing to sneeze at either. They offer various medical and life insurance plans to their alumni anywhere, while their renewable major medical insurance and comprehensive group dental plans are available depending upon state of residence.

"They (insurance packages) are very useful for the right people -- people who are between jobs or just graduated," says Jeff Roedel, the assistant vice president of marketing operations for the American Insurance Administrators in Columbus, Ohio.

Annual dues are $40 and lifetime memberships are $400 for CSU at Sacramento graduates. In addition to these payment plans, CSU at Sacramento offers a joint-spouse plan where a married couple -- where both spouses are eligible for membership -- can join for $50 a year or obtain a $600 life membership. Alumni can also purchase a single five-year membership for $160.

"We are pretty compatible with most of the CSUs in California," says Linda Scott, director of membership development at CSU at Sacramento. "Our biggest draw (to the association), of course, is access to the state college library -- that's our No. 1 feature with new grads -- and the other part is the loyalty to the university from which they graduated."

Getting in on the fun
Besides providing insurance packages, alumni associations realize that all work and no play makes you a dull person. That's why some offer discounts on various entertainment venues.

When purchased directly from the university, CSU at Sacramento alumni association members can buy discounted movie ticket for $6 for any United Artists Theatre and save on admission to amusement parks such as Sea World, the San Diego Zoo and Six Flags.

The savings University of California Santa Barbara alumni receive are even greater. Not only are they are eligible for discounts at theme parks but they can also enjoy savings from the association's oceanfront Family Vacation Center in Santa Barbara.

If you want to go international, why not try the UCSB travel program? UCSB offers various tour and trip packages for all types of getaways. For instance, an eight-day Swiss Alps getaway starts at $2,595, and an eight-day cruise to Galapagos Islands begins at $4,489.

UCSB dues for recent graduates who enrolled within a year are $35 annually and $400 for a lifetime membership. Regular alumni memberships are $50 annually and $500 for a lifetime. A free joint membership is available for a member's spouse/partner who was also a UCSB graduate.

Joining the club
Many who are active in their alumni association became eligible to join only after they had their diploma in-hand. At some schools, students eager to jump onboard the alumni bandwagon need not wait until graduation.

At the University of Florida, school officials are extending alumni association membership eligibility to students. In 1999, UF started a program where students can join the Student Alumni Association for $15.

"By allowing students to join, they become more aware of what the alumni association provides," says Jon Cannon, director of membership and marketing for the alumni association at the UF. The perks include a free T-shirt, member-only discounts for local shops and access to career networking opportunity services.

If the alumni dues at MSU, CSU at Sacramento and UK seem a bit steep, look at this way: the annual $40 membership fee at CSU comes out to be $3.33 a month, less than what you'll pay for a matinee movie.

You may be better off purchasing a life membership if you plan on being an active alum for several years. For instance, $500 may sound like a lot of money. In fact, it is a lot. But if you don't pay a life membership and stick with the $40 annual fee for 20 years, you will end up paying $800 to your beloved university.

Paying dues or a lifetime membership may sound expensive. But think of being a part of an alumni association as a way of giving back to a university that rewarded you with a degree for your hard work. You contribute some cash, which the organization contributes toward different causes, and you get some great perks. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

--Updated: May 1, 2003

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See Also
5 frugality tips for college grads
Good deeds help pay down college debt
Top 10 shocks for college grads

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