As a professor, I have a vested interest in that question. I find myself asking it from time to time and quite frankly, I’m not sure of the answer. Yes, our role in higher ed is much bigger than how we interact with one organization. We have a responsibility to provide quality education and research. However, the question is beyond responsibility, it is about relationship. What should the relationship be like between higher education and NAI? The aspect I want to focus on is membership sustainability.
I think the question is important because it deals with the long term viability of NAI. It is not uncommon for people see an organization only as it appears at the present. What will NAI look like in five, ten, or twenty years? I have been told that the Certified Interpretive Guide program will allow NAI to sustain a healthy membership into the future. I am not so certain. The retention rates beyond the first year of membership are not great. I don’t know that the number is still accurate, but at one time only fifteen percent of CIG participants renewed their membership in NAI beyond the first year. Of that number, I don’t know how many were already committed members.
So, what about the role of higher education? I have come to view higher education as a part of the continuum where a person with a dream, is able to make that dream a reality. Students arrive at our university with a love of nature and/or history but not sure how it can be a career. I introduce students to interpretation and NAI in the classroom but it is working on-site through volunteer and paid opportunities where they really get hooked.
What do you think? What should the higher education/NAI relationship look like? Does it matter? Please share your thoughts.