Annual dues at the UCLA Alumni Association are $55. At UC San Diego, Loyalty Society associates pay $50. Long Beach State alumni, whose mascot is the Forty-Niners, pay a one-time fee of $49. San Jose State grads pay $45 a year, and at CSU San Marcos, with 1,200 alumni, annual fees are as little as $30.

Image from SDSU Alumni Association homepage at sdsualumni.org.

And at San Diego State?

Membership is free.

As reported this week in The Daily Aztec, the SDSU Alumni Association has dropped its $45-a-year membership fee.

As of July 1, alumni were instead urged to donate directly to the university.

“In the last year, we came to the conclusion the alumni membership was not serving the school,” Assistant Vice President of Alumni Engagement Jim Herrick was quoted as saying.

At root is a widely cited college rankings.

“We are determined to raise the reputation of SDSU in the U.S. News and World Report (college) ranking,” Herrick told the student paper. “One of the factors is the percent of alumni donors.”

In the current rankings, San Diego State is 152nd among national universities but better in department categories. (The top three are Princeton, Harvard and Yale. UC San Diego was 39th, and University of San Diego was 91st.)

In an alumni site post titled “A shift of focus,” Herrick said:

Alumni leaders hope the move will help build a broader base of engaged alumni by allowing SDSU degree holders to connect with the university in an unlimited number of ways rather than a rigid, formalized structure that some might view as exclusive.

Herrick called SDSU’s move part of a national trend.

“We want you to give to KPBS, to athletics, to a scholarship fund, to whatever club or organization you were in when you were here — whatever you want at San Diego State,” Herrick said. “We have to evolve with the times and those times demand a recalibrating of being in sync with the goals of the university.”

Keith Harris, president of Bay Area Aztecs, said he hoped eliminating the membership fee attracts more members.

“I think the change is going to be a win and help us get more alumni active for our chapter,” he was quoted as saying.

In 2010, former Caltech Alumni Association executive director Andy Shaindlin blogged at Alumni Futures “that many alumni offices tend to program for a mythical average alumnus who, all things being equal, is 1) interested in alma mater, 2) prepared to engage or join, and 3) willing to donate.”

But he said an “average alumnus” doesn’t exist and “the vast majority” don’t join alumni associations of contribute financially.

“Some associations are already programming more for the minority of alumni who are predisposed toward engagement, while largely ignoring the rest of the constituents,” Shaindlin wrote. “Of course, there will be periodic efforts to attract newly interested or available alumni as volunteers and donors as well, but alumni who have exhibited low or no engagement over some length of time will be dropped from mailing and invitation lists.”

He concluded:

“Dues-based associations are not ‘bad’ for alumni relations. So long as an association has the scale to justify the overhead cost, dues structures are still justified. But to thrive, membership associations must deliver real benefits that people truly need or want, and that they cannot get elsewhere.”

The Daily Aztec said SDSU’s alumni “are still encouraged to become lifetime members of the Alumni Association” and receive benefits that include discounts from the SDSU Bookstore and “a lifetime supply of SDSU return address labels.”