The Future of Academic Associations


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Steven Rathgeb Smith, the executive director of the American Political Science Association, outlines the history and future of academic associations in the United States.

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The Future of Academic Associations

  2. 2. The Growth of Academic Associations  Academic associations, including the large disciplinary associations, prospered in the post- World War II period due to rising federal and foundation funding of higher education, the increase in faculty, and the steady proliferation of journals.  These associations also had a monopoly since potential members of these associations, such as the American Political Science Association, needed to join the association in order to attend the conference and receive the association journals.
  3. 3. Changing Context of Academic Associations  More competition: In the last 25 years, many new and specialized academic associations have been created. Many of these associations have grown rapidly, attracting individuals who were previously members of the large disciplinary associations.  Stagnation in faculty salaries: More difficult for potential members to afford association dues.  Growth of Adjunct Faculty: Fewer regular rank faculty has led to a smaller pool of potential association members.
  4. 4. The Changing Context of Academic Associations  Higher membership fees: Associations have been forced to raise fees, due to rising expenses and in some associations declines in membership.  Declines in federal funding of the social sciences: This shift has led to fewer research projects and more competition for remaining research funding. This funding reduction in turn means that association members have less funding to join and participate in association activities.
  5. 5. The Changing Context of Academic Associations  Incentives to attend the annual conference are changing  Constraints on faculty travel budgets  More competition for space on the conference program, especially the large disciplinary associations.  The rise of citation indexes, impact factors and other evaluation techniques means that participation at the annual research conference is less essential for promotion and advancement.  Rising conference fees and related expenses.
  6. 6. The Changing Context of Academic Associations  Challenges to Association Revenue  Threats to royalty income from journals. Movement toward open source publishing and funding constraints from libraries has placed pressure on the income of publishers.  Limited individual philanthropy. Members are inclined to give to specific projects such as awards rather than the association operating budget.  Shift in foundation priorities. Foundations have turned their attention to more applied projects such as early childhood education, economic development. Limited funding for association infrastructure support.
  7. 7. The Changing Context of Academic Associations  Challenges to Association Revenue  Stagnation in membership and conference fee revenue  Limited earned income potential. Most academic associations do not have products or services that they can easily translate into a substantial earned income stream, except for the conference and their journals.  Modest endowments. Most academic associations do not have substantial endowments.  Undercapitalization. Many associations do not
  8. 8. What Should Academic Associations Do?  Rethink the Value Proposition for Membership.  Innovation in programming and operations.  Organizational adaptability. Ability to quickly and flexibly respond to emergent trends and developments.  Collaboration. Need to work closely with external stakeholders and other associations in support of organizational goals and priorities.  A networked organization. Create new networks within the organization and externally.  Diversity and inclusiveness. Increasing diversity of association membership requires  Create a learning organization. Associations need to promote an environment that promotes new ideas and learning in support of association programs and member services.
  9. 9. Strategies and Next Steps  A different connection of the association to members  Association website as the portal to important content and benefits. A cutting edge website is critical to delivering value to members, especially with the explosion in social media.  New approach to member benefits. Associations need to think carefully about the benefits available for membership and use different benefits strategically in support of increased value to members.
  10. 10. Strategies and Next Steps  A different connection of the association to members  Conference is not a one-time event. Association need to leverage the content at the conference for the benefit of members. Examples include videotaping conference presentations and posting on association websites.  Innovation in conference format. Associations should offer varied formats and approaches at their conferences. New approaches to engaging members in the conference need to be explored.
  11. 11. Strategies and Next Steps  Advocacy and Public Engagement  Advocacy needs to connect with the ongoing concerns of members  Partner with other associations in support of association goals and priorities  Associations should advocate not only for their own priorities but more broad-based concerns related to higher education  Need to think broadly about advocacy and public engagement. Associations should offer a bridge between individuals members and policymakers and support the public engagement activities of members.
  12. 12. Strategies and Next Steps  Regular surveys of the members  Governance structure is critical. Associations need to ensure that their governance structure allows proper accountability, flexibility and the ability of the board to engage in strategic planning and ongoing governance.  Current strategic plan to guide the association and its programming.
  13. 13. Acknowledgements  A previous version of this presentation was given at a panel on academic associations at the Southern Political Science Association meeting, January 2014, in New Orleans. The author gratefully acknowledges the helpful feedback of fellow panel members and the audience. In addition, the author would like to thank Putnam Barber, Pat Dobel, Rob Hauck, Barbara Walthall, and the staff of Cambridge University Press for feedback on earlier versions of this presentation.