IEEE-USA President’s Column: Price Versus Value — A Perspective On IEEE Membership

IEEE-USA President’s Column: Price Versus Value — A Perspective On IEEE Membership

I recently chaired an Ad hoc subcommittee for the IEEE Board of Directors that attempted to look at whether lower basic IEEE dues would increase IEEE membership, and if any increased IEEE membership would pay for the revenue loss from decreased dues. I wanted to talk about what our subcommittee determined based upon data and discussions, and then thank you all for letting me be your IEEE-USA president this year, and wish you a great holiday season and a great 2020.

IEEE dues (particularly with the various assessments that are dependent upon one’s location) are on the slightly higher side compared with some other professional organizations, but there are several professional societies with higher dues. IEEE basic dues have increased about 19% from 2008 to 2018 but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Consumer Price Index has increased about 17% over the same period, so there is perhaps a 2% normalized-to-the-cost-of-living price increase for IEEE basic membership over this period. Also, for those not living in the United States, the US$-to-local-currency rate of exchange changed over this same period (depending upon where the member lives).

In order to look at the possible impact of membership price on membership trends, the chart below shows higher grade (HG) membership (non-undergraduate student) membership trends (without life members whose dues and assessments are waived) and the non-inflation normalized base membership dues by region from 2008 through 2018.

price versus value

The figure above shows that the biggest losses in dues-paying higher grade membership have been in Regions 1-6 (the United States). Region 10 (much of Asia) has shown the biggest growth (with much of this growth in student members). Region 7-9 (when we exclude life members) have increased or declined by a small amount over this period. Region 7 (Canada) membership has increased by 1.2% (in non-life higher grade membership). Canada had an unfavorable exchange rate change with the United States of over 25% over this period, meaning that the normalized IEEE higher grade membership cost in Canada increased by more than 25% over this period, but Canada experienced a small membership increase. So, it seems that the price of membership, although arguably important, may not be the biggest factor in IEEE higher grade membership loss, particularly in the United States.

So, what is the cause of this membership loss? There are a number of likely contributing causes, including the nearly flat U.S. electrical engineering workforce and declines in student enrollments over the past decade. Automation-related advances in productivity, accelerated by robotics and AI, are reducing the need for engineers in many traditional manufacturing fields. Technical jobs have been offshored and outsourced. We are also seeing a generational shift in the U.S. workforce from the Baby Boomers and GenX to the Millennial generation, which is carrying more educational debt at lower relative inflation-adjusted wages than their predecessors.

All of these factors play into the consideration of membership price and value. If you don’t have the time or support from your employer to engage in the types of career networking and professional development that IEEE provides, then engagement in the IEEE will be difficult for you and you may get little value from IEEE membership. At the same time, much of the membership “value” in terms of technical information and learning resources that IEEE provides can be gleaned through the Internet through an employer’s Xplore subscription or for free.

Lastly, there is the fact that IEEE’s membership offering is essentially “one-size-fits-all,” whereas individuals are increasingly looking for customization and specialization to meet their specific needs. If we are to grow again in the United States, we need to create membership value for today’s technical community.

U.S. IEEE HG member recruitment generally declined about 15% between 2008 and 2018. Overall HG membership retention declined less than 1% over this period. However, retention of newly graduated Young Professional (YP) HG members over the first five years of membership is very poor in the United States, which has resulted in a steady increase in the average age of IEEE members. Keeping and recruiting YP members is probably the biggest opportunity to help reverse IEEE membership loss in the United States.

In fact, our committee determined that IEEE is missing out on many opportunities to increase the potential pool of IEEE HG YP members by increasing our addressed pool of student members. We appear to have only about a 4% penetration of the potential market of student members (those who are studying in our fields of interest in the United States). Furthermore, many U.S. students are now graduating from two-year community colleges before transferring to finish their last two years of education in more expensive four-year colleges, in order to keep their education costs down. IEEE has very little penetration or visibility at the community college level.

Our Ad hoc committee members supported a motion for the IEEE Board of Directors, that was adopted by the board, to do geographically dispersed pilot projects to extend the period of time over which recently graduated YP member dues increased. Models to be tested include gradual increases in new YP HG membership over five years or a flat lower-priced membership over five years). These measures may help our new YP members, but I feel that we must do more, particularly at the local IEEE Section level.

Our local IEEE Sections are where most IEEE members interact with IEEE — they are the face of IEEE to most U.S. IEEE members. Our Sections include our student branches and student branch chapters. IEEE Section leaders should promote active local IEEE participation in their student branches (including working to organize student branches at two-year community colleges), working with and encouraging the local branch counselors to let students know that IEEE is more than a student club and that they can look to IEEE to be their professional home, helping them advance and prosper during their entire career.

Photo is me in front of Coughlin’s Law in Pittsburgh, PA during 2019.

In addition, IEEE organizational units (OUs) like Member and Geographic Activities (MGA) can provide materials, such as presentations focusing on what IEEE offers student and graduated YPs that local Section leaders can present to IEEE student branch meetings. Research has shown that the more engaged members are with IEEE the greater the retention rate will be — engaging with our student members should be our first effort to increase member engagement within the United States. A concerted effort by our local volunteers and the various OUs to engage and recruit student and YP members can reverse the trend in declining and aging U.S. IEEE membership.

Enough of that. December is the last month of my IEEE-USA presidency. I want to thank everyone who voted for me, and for those who didn’t, I hope that I fulfilled your expectations. I have enjoyed playing this role and getting a chance to communicate, visit and work with many of you over this year. I started a few things and got some things done during my presidency, and will work to complete this work as IEEE-USA past president, working with 2020 IEEE-USA President Jim Conrad next year. Together we can make a difference, and I look forward to working with you, our engaged IEEE volunteers, in the future. Best wishes to you and your family and I wish you much happiness and prosperity in 2020.


Tom Coughlin
IEEE-USA President, 2019

17 thoughts on “IEEE-USA President’s Column: Price Versus Value — A Perspective On IEEE Membership

    I’m a life member and grandfather to a technically proficient grandson in freshman year of High School. Briefly, he builds his own gaming level computers and was accepted into a competitive robot construction program and is carrying a 4.0+in AP math. He knows how to operate some test equipment in my lab and has his sights set on MIT.
    BUT when I attempted to enroll him into the IEEE student membership I discovered that he had to be in college and not just high school.
    I had to enroll him as an associate member and pay the full cost instead of a student membership prices.
    I pay the dues because his mother cannot and the husband gone. As a 78 year old guy my future is not assured and I worry about him.
    You may want to review your rule and provide student membership rates for interested high school students and perhaps actively market with a programs fitted for them.
    In this age of STEM I have to think there are other such students.
    Joseph Springer PE, BSEE, MSEE

    1. Excellent comments, Joseph. I too am a Life Member with a very bright grandson who is a sophomore in high school. He asked me to see what the IEEE offered in robotic competition at the high school level. I have not been able to find any IEEE activities aimed at the high school group level. I would be more than interested in sponsoring my grandson to be a member of the IEEE if they had a high school membership available. Surely there are many other (1000’s?) IEEE members who have high school age family members that would be interested in what the IEEE has to offer. I think a high school level membership could be a huge potential to the IEEE.
      Lyel Upshaw PE, BSEE

    2. I think it would be a great idea to have some way that we can get high school students engaged in the IEEE as well.


  2. Hi Tom! Good article. I read it over. I also appreciated meeting you at EVO in Pittsburgh in August. Happy New Year! :Chris

  3. Hi Tom, Great article. When I was a young graduate and in the workforce I joined the IEEE because many people, even non-EEs, told me I could get the cheapest term life insurance through the organization. Bringing that back could be a mundane, but effective way to boost membership.

    Larry Lyons

    Life Member

    1. We still have a group term life insurance. Not sure it is the cheapest, haven’t checked, but it is there. For a few years I had IEEE group health insurance several years ago, when it was available, and that more than paid for my membership at the time.


  4. Excellent article Tom! Really appreciate your insights and the work of the Adhoc committee. Thank you for your leadership and contributions as IEEE-USA President and I look forward to working with you to strengthen IEEE and serve our members in the year ahead. Happy New Year!

    S. K. Ramesh
    2021 IEEE President-Elect Candidate

  5. Perhaps the IEEE is experiencing the same opportunity as college football; declining attendance. Technology is perhaps the biggest attribute, so it might be in the interest of the IEEE to recognize Technology for Humanity, and Technology for Membership. Ease of use and accessibility, access to information, becoming part of something meaningful (must be green related); realized with a two-pronged approach: Rising Costs and Declining Membership

    Real wages have declined over the past 10 years, so there is less for doing more. Cost and access to content that is relative to the members. Just thoughts for consideration.

  6. TO: Tom Coughlin
    Thank you for been a past leader and moving forward to work with the new president. I will be honest and I already answer a previous Survey in this Topic. The problem with IEEE is they offer a very high prices basic entrée pool rate, and then every society has their own game in individual fees. The Rate of New Members can be increased by lowering the basic rate, and leaving the extra money to be able to participate in more than own society. Also, Creating local mentor chapters at the two-year community levels where High school student can participate. Yes, many community college do offer to high school the experience of college. Absence of membership is due to the low or no activities of local IEEE Local chapters societies. The Monthly Meetings is important to maintain the glue of the pool of members. Few chapters have pass from Night meeting to working hours events. Who is going to attend them? they becomes like a private club. I signed with IEEEE as student, and has continue signing, but honesty, I have not found the VALUE for the dues been Charged. Reduce the IEEE basic entry to $150, much easier to promote, and leave the extra bucks for Signing to societies. As a Student I was happy with lower rate and access to several societies than as a Member with limited societies.

    1. Thanks Wilfredo, I certainly agree that the greatest value for most members is locally, at their local sections and chapters and providing the best experience there for our members would have the greatest impact. I also agree that we should do more at the local college and perhaps even the high school level to bring people into our community early and engage more with them.

      Thanks for your input and best wishes for the new year!


  7. Great article, Tom. I appreciate you being brave enough to present your thoughts on this challenging topic.
    “So, what is the cause of this membership loss?” My take is that the issue is not the cost for membership, rather the brand that is currently broadcasted by IEEE in R1-6 in student level and the minimum/non-existent focus on developing a core of IEEE R1-6 Student members.

    The brand should attract the student and YP technocrats in R1-6, but it is not. So, the question is to look at how the needs and perceptions of this sector of people have changed in the last 20 years. IEEE does not produce any mainstream media that could build it up such as Podcasts.

    The price spike does have a correlation with the retention rates when it comes to St to YP. However, if we can give them the value they need from a professional organization, rather than what is perceived by us as they need, then many will stay, irrespective of the cost. For an employed professional, most will have the dues paid by the company, and even if not $200, is not a significant investment.

    However, to do this we need to have a strategic task force looking at the student and YP picture in the same frame (This connection is also lost in most places in R1-6) creating top-level customized and directed programs/strategies to give the value that the new generation of professionals needs. IEEE-USA is the ideal platform to provide leadership for this kind of initiative.

    1. Hasala, I very much agree with you that we must focus on our student members and YPs if we are to continue the vitality of the IEEE in R1-6. We need to show the value of being part of our community to the next generation.

      Best wishes!


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