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Report: Alumni Networks Can Boost Student and Graduate Success

Alumni networks can help higher education institutions deliver greater value to their students, according to a new report from the Christensen Institute. When students are able to connect with alumni, they are more likely to graduate with the skills and networks they need for success in the workplace, the nonprofit think tank asserted.

Emerging technologies and alumni engagement models are making it possible for institutions to pull alumni into a number of student-serving roles. As the report outlined, alumni can be:

  • Mentors to drive persistence and student success. In this capacity, alumni can provide academic guidance; flag obstacles; help students connect their learning to workforce opportunities; and support student recruitment and onboarding.
  • Sources of career advice, inspiration and referrals. Here, alumni can offer career-focused guidance and mentorship; provide insight on different industries; and help influence hiring practices.
  • Providers of experiential learning, internships and client projects. Alumni can offer students paid, real-world projects; help institutions embed employer-relevant projects into coursework; act as guest speakers; and mentor students on experiential learning projects.  
  • Part-time staff for program delivery. Alumni can work within the institution as mentors in a particular program; provide career services such as interview prep and résumé review; organize employer events; and help strengthen pipelines between academic programs and employers.

The report identified five opportunities for alumni networks to make a difference in higher education:

1) Alumni networks can help add measurable value in terms of employment outcomes for graduates. In an age when institutions are judged by student success and the ROI of a traditional college degree, alumni can "offer a deep reservoir of social capital that could enrich the student experience during college through mentorship, career guidance, and work-integrated learning," and can "open doors to jobs, boosting graduates' chances of securing long-term employment and recouping their investment in a degree."

2) Technologies can expand student-alumni connections, as long as they are paired with "new operational models and departmental structures aimed at streamlining academic and career supports and integrating the world of work into academic coursework." It's important to consider how departments and processes within the institution could work differently before rolling out a new technology, the report cautioned.

3) Institutions that have traditionally relied on the "prestige" of their alumni or the size of their endowment could compete based on student access to alumni connections. "If the higher education market continues to shift toward measuring ROI, student access to alumni connections may become just as important as the names of high-profile alumni whose portraits line institutions' hallowed halls and glossy brochures," the report noted.

4) Institutions that lack established alumni engagement models have more flexibility to innovate. These institutions could "radically change the metrics that drive traditional alumni engagement, measuring their overall value-add to the student experience through connections, support, and opportunities provided, rather than just dollars donated."

5) New players in the postsecondary education market (for example, bootcamps) have a chance to rethink alumni engagement from the start. "New models that offer short, affordable courses have shown signs of expanding beyond entry-level skills, and beyond the technology industry," the report pointed out. "Successfully pushing into new industries and new training contexts will require bootcamps to continually innovate in how they nurture alumni networks in those new domains and in upmarket capacities at companies."

The full report is available on the Christensen Institute site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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