Are institutions leveraging their alumni to their full potential? Here’s how they can

"Alumni can provide a well of applicants," says Kelly Dore, vice president of science and innovation at Acuity Insights. "They're out there in the world and in the culture, and they can feed folks to your program." 

Alumni love their school, and they regularly show it by contributing greatly to their alma mater’s fundraising campaigns. Just ask Boise State University and Furman University (S.C.) about their recent successes.

As important as an alumni’s role has traditionally been in boosting an institution’s financial campaigns, colleges and universities that aren’t exploring new avenues where alumni can maximize their success are selling themselves short, says Kelly Dore, vice president of science and innovation at Acuity Insights, an edtech platform focused on post-college success.

“Schools are missing this huge opportunity if they’re not leveraging it,” says Dore, who’s also a part-time associate professor at Canada’s McMaster University. “When a school actually works with their alumni, it allows the programs to highlight their success organically. It shows applicants you’re interested in more than a seat in a lecture hall and that you care about their long-term success.”

According to a 2020 alumni engagement survey, 62% of institutional stakeholders report that their top priority is to increase the number of engaged graduates. Here are several ways active alumni can boost an institution’s overall success.

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Student recruitment

Alumni can be utilized to help enlighten potential college applicants who aren’t well-versed in a specific institution’s offerings. Essence Webb, a graduate of Southern University (La.) who founded an alumni chapter in California, connects Sacramento high school students and their families with fellow alumni and those of other HBCUs, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Some of the most concerted efforts to leverage alumni in finding potential applicants are at institutions’ graduate programs in business and medicine, Dore says. Harvard Business School provides alumni tips and tricks to maximize their utility as unofficial college recruiters.

“Alumni can provide a well of applicants,” she says. “They’re out there in the world and in the culture, and they can feed folks to your program.”

Aside from attracting more applicants, alumni can help institutions diversify their marketing strategies for a broadening net of college applicants unaware of the opportunities after college and who don’t fit in the traditional “cookie-cutter” mold.

“Students nowadays come into business school from very diverse backgrounds and don’t have a sense of the wide, vast net of opportunities after business school,” Dore says.

Partnership between industry

The delta between what industry expects from degree-wielding job applicants and what schools deliver is still vast. The skills students possess aren’t communicated well, and colleges’ in-house career services struggle to demand attention.

For Dore, alumni are the perfect candidates to broker conversation between the two. “That’s two things they know best: Their school and their industry.”

At Wabash College, a men’s private school in Ind., alumni working for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Company have hosted students to inform them on their track to success. The engagement dinner has since expanded students’ internship and career pipeline since 2017.

Bolster continuing education opportunities

The most important partnership may be between the alma mater and alumni. Colleges and universities today are trying to explore new modes of education through lifelong learning models.

Continuing education helps institutions move away from a one-time transactional approach with students into a model that incentivizes alumni to return and reskill whenever needed.

“[Alumni] are now expecting phased career counseling, impactful volunteer experiences and access to lifelong Continuing Education programs—all of which are important opportunities to strengthen the relationship alumni have with their institution,” wrote Jodie Sperico, chief of alumni and employer engagement at Long Island University.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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