Alumni networks are often touted as a benefit that helps grads get jobs, especially at elite institutions, write Zac Auter and Stephanie Marken for Gallup.
But these networks might not be as helpful as colleges think they are, finds a new Strada-Gallup survey of 5,100 U.S. college grads with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Just 9% of surveyed grads reported that their alumni network has been helpful or very helpful in their career so far. More than twice as many grads (22%) reported that their alumni network has actually been unhelpful or very unhelpful to them in their career.
The majority of grads (69%) reported that their alumni network has neither been helpful nor unhelpful, suggesting alumni networks are a non-factor for most grads in the job market, write Auter and Marken.
These trends remained consistent across major, gender, and institution size and type. Even at elite institutions.
Of the surveyed grads who attended one of the top 50 colleges ranked by U.S. News & World Report, 16% indicated that their alumni network was helpful or very helpful, compared with 10% of grads who attended institutions ranked from 51 to 100, and 8% of grads who attended those ranked outside of the top 100.
That’s a difference of just 8 percentage points between top-ranked schools and lower-ranked schools—a difference that is “relatively minor” and “unlikely to offset the differences in tuition costs,” write Auter and Marken.
The pessimism about alumni networks could be a result of inflated expectations, suggests Marken. “So many [prospective students] were being told the alumni network they would have on graduation—at many of these elite institutions, in particular—would be the difference-maker and was worth the additional investment,” she argues.
Marken adds that internship experience and mentors are more influential to students’ career outcomes than alumni networks, according to previous Gallup research. For instance, a 2017 Gallup survey suggests that students who had relevant internship or job experience during college were more than twice as likely to find employment after college as students who didn’t.
Still, many colleges are working to better engage and mobilize their alumni networks, write Auter and Marken. But “creating an engaged alumnus is nearly impossible if that graduate did not experience a fulfilling undergraduate experience,” they note. “The most active and successful networks will be the result of programming that shows students support while they are students and that motivates them to contribute upon graduation” (Auter/Marken, Gallup, 1/15; Schwartz, Education Dive, 1/15).