How Colleges Can Use Technology to Connect with Alumni: Student Life Cycle Series

alumni_technology

This blog post is the third in a series about the Student Life Cycle outlining why colleges should be adopting technology to better manage the entire student life cycle process; from applying and accepting to attending; to graduating to alumni giving and continuing education; and finally for some, to attend graduate school.

As a college alumnus, have you donated to your alma mater within the last two years? 63% of Princeton alumni made at least one donation to the school during a two-year period ending in 2015, which was the highest participation rate of its kind in the country. Donation rates to Princeton were followed by those to Harvard, Thomas Aquinas College, Williams, Bowdoin and a slew of other small liberal arts colleges. These rates are the exception, as the annual alumni donation rate is about 9% nationally, which is down from 18% in 1990. Colleges understand that the percentage of alumni who give back is a compelling indicator of alumni satisfaction. In addition, the alumni donation rate is one of the metrics that organizations like US News and World Report use to determine the annual comprehensive school rankings.

While alumni donation percentages are down, the amount of money schools are receiving is up. Total charitable giving reached $41.3 billion in 2016, setting a record. Stanford led in this respect, having received $1.63 billion in donations last year, a record for an individual school, according to a survey by the New York based Council for Aid to Education, which tracks university giving. Money from companies, trusts and non-alumni has continued to increase, while donations from alumni have remained relatively flat.

Colleges welcome this money, but are concerned by the slump in alumni donations. Schools are aggressively trying to cultivate and improve engagement with alumni through a variety of traditional activities, including alumni weekends and regional events. Increasingly, colleges are leveraging technology to facilitate alumni engagement. Here are a few examples:

Email

Many schools offer permanent email addresses for alumni (free or for a cost). These addresses are sometimes full-featured, but occasionally only offer email forwarding. These services make it easier for alumni to stay in touch with each other, while providing colleges with an effortless way to send solicitations for money.

Social Media

When it comes to connecting through social media, there are many options for schools than just a Facebook or Linkedin page. Schools can create a Facebook or a Linkedin Group for all their alumni or segment them by graduation year, academic areas or extracurricular activities. These groups can be moderated by alumni, the alumni office or both. The Penn State Linkedin Alumni Group has 73,716 members and 8 moderators made up of both alumni and representatives from the alumni office. The only downside to these groups is that the content on these platforms is owned by the social media company and not by the school.

Portals

Many schools offer an alumni portal that allow alumni to search directories for classmate contact information, register for events and access career resources. These portals sometimes offer a private social networking platform that can operate just like a Linkedin group. Princeton and Harvard have excellent alumni portals with many opportunities for alumni to engage.

Classes

An innovative program started by the University of Chicago offers free classes to alumni as way to increase engagement.

Coaching

Babson College has offered their Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program (CLTP) since 1997 to allow alumni to coach undergraduates. The school created an online portal to manage the process and share content between coaches and students. Schools looking to create a similar program should provide an online appointment scheduling solution to make it easy for busy alumni to engage.

Conclusion

These are just a few examples of how colleges can leverage technology to foster communication between alumni and between alumni and the school. There seems to be a trend toward more academic-themed activities for alumni rather than just networking and social events. All schools would benefit from reaching out to alumni and asking what additional services would foster further engagement.

In our next post in the blog series about the Student Life Cycle, we will look at how graduate schools can improve their admissions process.

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