Friday, August 15

Facts and figures about voting and engagement at Penn State University.

Rick Dandrea favors inclusion of a member of the Penn State Alumni Association which would come from a currently Alumni elected trustee position.  Dandrea cites the small percentage of alumni who vote for trustees and the total members in  the PSAA should have a member on the Board.  Here's my take on the argument.

Ray Blehar

Trustee (B&I) Richard Dandrea has cited declining participation in the PSU BOT elections over the last three years and the small percentage of alumni who vote in those elections as one of the reasons why the Penn State Alumni Association (PSAA) should get a seat on the board.

2012 cycle: 37,563 
2013 cycle: 32,986 
2014 cycle: 29,791 

As the numbers reveal, the there have been declines in voters the past two cycles but those declines are not statistically significant (i.e., average +/- 3 x standard deviation).   Trustee Anthony Lubrano stated this at this morning's meeting and he was mathematically correct.

Conclusion 1: Dandrea's rationale of declining participation in elections isn't statistically valid.

Next, Mr. Dandrea calculated participation rates in the elections based on a population of 600,000 or so alumni.   According to the PSAA web-site there are 631,000 living alumni.  Those are people who got a degree from Penn State.  That is the population of potential voters.  But as we all know, the entire population doesn't vote in our national election -- only registered voters do. 

There are currently 174,391 members in the PSAA.  These are the alumni and friends*  who have joined the PSAA and made the financial commitment (dues payment).   However, according to the PSAA, just 134,780 members were eligible to vote in the election. So, 134,780 makes up the "registered" voter group.

*friends = associate members

Only 7,152 of the the registered voter group voted in the 2014 PSAA Alumni Council election with those candidates elected garnering between 2,006 and 3,449 votes.

Again for comparison purposes are the number of actual trustee voters vs. alumni council voters and participation rates n the last election (Actual/Registered Voters)

2014 alumni cycle:    7,152 (5.3%)

2014 trustee cycle: 29,791 (22.1%)

In the last cycle, over four times as many "registered voters" voted in the trustee election than did in the PSAA Alumni Council election.  This indicates that many, many more alumni are interested and engaged regarding who represents them regarding the governance of the University than are about who represents them about Alumni relations.

Conclusion 2:  Alumni PSAA council member serves a considerably smaller constituency than an alumni elected trustee.

However, there is a third figure that Mr. Dandrea obliquely referred to in his support of the PSAA.  That figure was the $9.1 million that PSAA members contributed to the For the Future Campaign.  

Although he did not say how many PSAA members this included, the 2013 President's Report on Philanthropy and Giving provides the number of alumni who donate to PSU.  Mr. Dandrea may or may not be surprised to learn that the number of alumni who donate are around than half of the current PSAA "registered voters" or 72,111 donors.  At this point, we have now moved from "engaged" or involved, to committed.  In polling speak, this is our "likely voter" group.

Let's look at the last three cycles of donors (likely voters) from PSU's last six reports on philanthropy (all reports end on June 30th of each year).

2012-2013 Report:   72,111
2011-2012 Report:   75,593  
2010- 2011 Report:  74,450
2009-2010 Report:   76,146
2008-2009  Report:  77,658*
2007-2008  Report   74,166

*downturn in economy

Once again, we have seen a decline in the number of donors over the last cycle, but again, the decline isn't statistically significant.  However, Mr. Dandrea's point of using PSAA donations as a rationale for giving them a seat doesn't hold water. Based on probability, those who voted in the trustee elections make up a more sizable number and percentage of donors than those who voted in the PSAA election.

Conclusion 3: A greater number of donors are among trustee voters than PSAA voters.

Finally, let's examine the voting in the trustee elections as a percentage of our committed (or donor) base.

2014 cycle: 29,791 (41.3%)
2013 cycle: 32,986 (43.6%)
2012 cycle: 37,563 (50.4%)

These figures are quite impressive, with those voting in trustee elections reflecting over 40% of donors.  While we know that every voter in the trustee election did not donate money to PSU (because some alumni have vowed to withhold donations after 11/9/11), the percentages are probably not far off.

Of all the numbers and conclusions presented, Conclusion 2 is the most important or significant.  A PSAA representative on the PSU BOT would serve a rather small constituency and not represent most important concerns of the alumni.


  1. Ray,

    I'd be interested in seeing how many alumni voted in the Trustee elections before the 2012 cycle. I suspect the interest generated by "It" and PS4RS has increased the voting substantially. And perhaps if the participation has significantly increased, someone could make a case for adding more Alumni Trustee positions (ok, I'm dreaming).

  2. Any PSAA President could stand for election just like any of the other alumni trustees. Why should a member of the PSAA be given special privileges?

    1. Exactly, Deborah. To take it a step further, if any PSAA Alumni Council member wants to run for the board, they have that opportunity.

      If you ran, I'd vote for you.

  3. There is no way a seat on the BOT should be granted to the past-president of the PSU Alumni Association. Why we already have 9 duly elected members of the PSU Alumni Association on the BOT. If a past or current president wishes to have a seat on the BOT there is already a process for them to get elected.