OPEN MEMBERSHIP FAQs
(Sampling of questions from branch members across the US in 2021)
1. AAUW has been this way for a long time. Why do we need to change now?
AAUW has adapted itself to changing times before in order to continue to be relevant.
Our continued relevance will be enhanced by eliminating barriers that limit who can participate in ourmission of advancing equity for women and girls.
Many corporate and foundation funders have clearly told us they aren’t willing or able based on theirown criteria to fund organizations they believe have directly or indirectly discriminatory requirements or create barriers to participation in the work of the organization. Corporate and foundation funding is essential for national nonprofits these days. AAUW’s membership dues support only a small percentage of our work.
As part of the country’s overall reckoning with systemic racism and inequality, much of which disproportionately affects women, it is time to recognize that our self-imposed barriers to participation are actually harmful, even if these barriers once may have been understood to serve as a well-intentioned incentive to specific achievement.
2. Won’t dropping the degree requirement end what is unique about our organization?
The uniqueness of AAUW is its breadth of programming, research, policy and advocacy, fellowships & grants, and grassroots membership. Unfortunately, AAUW is also unique in its exclusionary membership requirement, which is particularly unfortunate for an organization advocating for equity.
Having a degree does not make someone “like-minded” — We are like-minded in our support for advancing equity for women and girls.
Having a degree does not make someone a better advocate for women or a better symbol of woman power. Think Eleanor Roosevelt, Lilly Ledbetter, Malala, Greta Thunburg.
3. Don’t we need to honor the legacy of our founding mothers by retaining the degree requirement?
It’s been 140 years since our founding back in an era when only a very few women were able to go tocollege or find meaningful employment after graduation. Today, women outpace men in earning degrees at all levels. Women also make up (pre-COVID) close to 1/2 of the total workforce in the U.S. But economic disparities and discrimination against women persist widely, despite our levels of education and participation in the workforce.
AAUW can and should take pride in its past and present success in helping women attain higher education. The fully endowed Fellowships and Grants Fund will allow AAUW to be a leader in this area in perpetuity. Education is important and does make a difference. But it alone doesn’t guarantee equal treatment or opportunities for women, something our founders cared about deeply. The battle to be fought is not just about education, but about equal treatment.
4. If the degree requirement is dropped, will branch membership increase?
Membership levels in associations and other organizations are affected by many things. But, certainly our degree requirement is a barrier to joining for many women, and increasingly it is seen as elitist and discriminatory.
A rush of younger members to join branches is unlikely due to the age of most of our current branch members. However, more women in older age ranges may be interested in joining once the barrier is removed. Fifty plus years ago, many women, particularly non-White women, did not have access to higher education. We all undoubtedly have friends in this category — women who are “just as smart,” just as interested in equality for women,” not to mention “just as much fun,” who can’t be members because of the current degree requirement. Many of us have been embarrassed by encouraging friends to join, only to find out they aren’t eligible because they don’t have a degree.
Our degree requirement has shut out women with diverse backgrounds and perspectives – who may inject new energy into the mission. Younger women, in particular, view the fact that we have a barrier to entry that disproportionately affects women of color and women of lower economic status as contrary to our mission.
5. Since college education is more accessible now, why do we need to worry about dropping the requirement?
Getting a degree was a badge of honor for many of us, building our confidence and honing ourintellectual skills, and also helping to prepare us for work outside the home. For some it was also a badge of honor that meant we could join AAUW, an organization that helped keep us intellectually stimulated while we were still at home raising children. But, degrees are not the “badge of honor” they once were, and skyrocketing educational costs, childcare, elder care, transportation, working multiple jobs and language barriers are significant issues for women today that make it hard for women to get a degree. Also remember that as it stands today, many women have gotten their degree only to be burdened by two-thirds of the national college debt. Cost is a barrier many of us didn’t have “back then.”
Today, there are more careers open to women- firefighters, police, pilots, entrepreneurs, artists, politicians, manufacturers, retail managers, etc. that don’t require a degree. Education can come in many forms, including career technical education, on-the-job training. Women without degrees can certainly be just as passionate about advancing equity for women and girls as women with degrees.
6. Won’t we have to change our name if we drop the degree requirement?
First of all, we’ve had a variety of names during our 140-year history.
Today, AAUW is well-respected and high profile, particularly in its advocacy and research. We would notwant to lose this position of recognition. Many other organizations use only initials and didn’t formally change their names when one of the original words in the name became out of favor or inappropriate. Think NAACP or YWCA. Changing our name is not the issue to focus on. Opening our membership to a broader group that will work in support of the mission is the issue.
Also, the full name has not been applicable for a while. “American” – we have worked internationally for over 100 years. “Association” – members dues now only comprise 15-20% of revenues. “University” – in 2005, membership was extended to people with associate degrees. “W” – in 1987, membership was open to men.