Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What Alumni Want

So, soon-to-be graduates and recent college graduates — what do you want from your university once you have your degree? Here's my list of what I think alumni want from their alma mater:

10. Playing a part
Remaining a useful part of the university is actually important to college graduates. Opportunities to come back and help out by talking with faculty about what worked and what was left out once a graduate has been in the work force a year or two could be helpful to the department and to the university on a larger level. Interaction of current students with recent graduates may form good relationships that can lead to academic collaboration and other productive ventures.

9. Staying connected
Opportunities to connect with old friends and faculty, especially on a smaller level, such as people from one’s specific major, are something recent graduates can look forward to. Events such as department-sponsored fundraisers are one such example.

8. Mentoring
Assigning a mentor in one’s field upon graduation could prove very useful. Meeting an older graduate who has become successful with the same educational background as oneself is very encouraging, and it makes the former student feel good about where they’ve been and where they are going.

7. Social mixers
Opportunities to meet with other alumni and big names on campus are important to recent graduates. One idea might be an annual event on campus for alumni to gather and have fun, eat food, network and maybe get some SWAG (stuff we all get) could become popular. Sometimes events such as alumni cruises and others just take too much time out of a busy young professional’s schedule (not to mention a lot out of their wallets).

6. Name-dropping
Recent graduates expect to be able to tell potential employers where they went to school. The “where’s that?” or “oh there” responses aren’t really ones alumni hope to hear when they tell people where they went to school. Maintaining positive face with the media nationwide will help increase the weight of the university’s name on a résumé, helping out grads and encouraging them to spread the word about the university.

5. Campus access
Access to the library and other campus facilities are a big perk for recent graduates. A welcoming place on campus for alumni is essential, and if grads know they can utilize facilities on campus and maybe even get a good rate on a place to stay, they will be more likely to come to town for events and ultimately end up spending some money on and around the university.

4. Some distance
Though recent graduates need help with networking and finding jobs, they do need some distance from their alma mater. It’s often the case that new alumni are furthering their education, paying off student loans, buying homes, buying cars and still trying to land that dream job. Asking for money, especially if the university doesn’t know whether or not the recent graduate has a full-time job, is a turn-off cited by many new alumni association members. Perhaps reduced membership dues for more recent graduates or some other sort of alumni program would be well-received.

3. Sports
Sports play a big role in how alumni view their university. A university that runs successful sports programs is one that alumni are proud to associate with. Special deals on tickets for sporting events and merchandise for recent graduates are great ways to keep alumni involved with the university’s programs. Game-day tailgates and gatherings to watch games, as well as mentions of possible recreation sporting leagues made up of different alumni chapters were mentioned in informal surveying.

2. Online networking community
An online community, likely though some sort of separate alumni Web site, is a desirable feature for new graduates. Keeping in touch with other alumni and university news with a Web site that is user-friendly, regularly updated and has a clean, tech-savvy appearance is highly valued. Also, a database of alumni by profession for networking purposes would be very helpful and possibly lead into career assistance. A microsite such as this is just the thing to get alumni involved.

1. Career assistance
The top thing alumni want (and expect) from their alma mater is help with finding employment. Career connections, whether it is through other alumni or not, are what graduates think their college should help them with. If new graduates are unable to find a job within the first month or so out of college, then they feel the institution has let them down and did not prepare them for a career in exchange for all of that tuition money. For some students, this could also mean help with making the right connections to get into a good graduate program.

Agree? Disagree? What's one thing you would add to the list if you could? I definitely want your feedback, so please, comment!

*Special thanks to Daron Williams, Alexander Bea, Rachel DeLauder, Shari Baloch and my Twitter friends for their time in discussing this issue with me earlier.

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