How to Reach Student Members Beyond Graduation

Designing memberships categories to align with career paths allows associations to not only provide tailored tools and resources but also to attract and retain members. The Council for Exceptional Children shares how that strategy has worked for them.  

The Council for Exceptional Children, like many associations with student members, knows that creating a path for them beyond graduation requires work. To tackle that challenge, CEC has created member categories that correspond to a typical career path in special education.

The association offers two student memberships—Pre-service and Graduate. After graduation, they’re eligible for Early Career membership—designed for special educators in the first three years of teaching. Then, members move to the Professional category where they stay until retirement.

“We like to get students to join in the early days of their college education so that our memberships follow them all the way to retirement,” said Kevin Jacobs, membership manager for CEC. “Our memberships focus on providing the right support at the right time.”

Designing memberships that support members at key points in their professional journey can help associations guide members throughout their career and ensure they not only see the value in membership but also remain lifetime members.

Early Tailored Support

According to Jacobs, creating programming that provides support early and often will help give student members a clear pathway to their tenure in the organization.

“Plan your membership strategy in a forward-thinking way by asking student members for details like graduation and sending them a special membership offer or upgrade when that time comes,” he said.

CEC provides student members with a dedicated resource center, advice and tools for their job search, and resume tips. The association also offers pre-service student members a $1 million insurance policy that covers them when they are in their student teaching semester. Since these members typically have limited funds, it’s often more cost-effective for students to join CEC to receive the insurance benefit than buying the policy on its own.

“Showing students that they have a future beyond student membership demonstrates that the association will be there to support not only now but also in the future,” Jacobs said. “This helps associations create long-term value propositions that go beyond traditional needs.”

Industry and Career Growth

Once members finish student teaching, they can move into the early career member category. These members receive the standard membership offerings, as well as supplemental resources that provide additional support based on where they are in their career.

“For example, one of our most popular publications, The Survival Guide for New Special Educators, provides a contextual viewpoint of their first years of teaching and covers things that most educators wish they had known sooner,” Jacobs said. “We also have a dedicated program with live seminars and sessions called JumpStart for New and Early Career Special Educators that is especially relevant to this group.”

The association also offers specific resources and programming to paraeducators—support personnel. This group receives free registration to CEC’s convention and an online program specific to them.

“We’re seeing this group growing rapidly, and we’re even expecting a large cohort of almost 5,000 of these members from one of our state partnership initiatives,” Jacobs said. “We’re really excited about this because some of those paraeducator members will eventually become teachers as well, and this gives us a way to demonstrate that value in a relevant and useful way.”

The Membership Journey

Designing memberships around the career journey not only helps associations provide tailored tools and resources but also gives them the opportunity to highlight their value to members.

“Our membership journey is, in many ways, a value proposition,” Jacobs said. “Associations need to consider this type of membership model because it provides long-term value, not just instant gratification.”

CEC’s membership journey is designed to give student members real-world insights, to provide early-career members with guidance and tools, to give professionals day-to-day support and resources, and to help retirees give back to the profession.

“All of this is designed around the aspect of community-building, which we know is one of the single greatest reasons people keep coming back,” Jacobs said. “When they see that we can support them at different career stages, they tend to be more willing to renew and engage with us.”


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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