Professional, continuing, and online leaders too often overlook one of the most fruitful recruitment pools: alumni, many of whom are excellent candidates as adult learners. According to research by Sunil Gupta, Donal Lehmann, and Jennifer Ames, your current customers (in this case, students) are your best prospects as they have a great impact on organizational value. And, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center report, 73% of American adults consider themselves to be lifelong learners.
By staying involved with graduates and offering alumni benefits, universities can attract alumni interested in lifelong learning experiences, and easily facilitate networking opportunities between current students and alumni. And, of course, advertising alumni connections can help recruit new students. These alumni benefits fall into three major categories: educational, continued student services, and networking and community building. Keep reading to learn more about these benefits—and how institutions across the country are using these benefits to engage alumni and attract new students.
8 Benefits and Tactics for Long-term Alumni Engagement
Most relevant to graduates’ initial relationship to the university are educational benefits. These benefits often make use of existing resources the institution has, thereby allowing institutions to engage alumni at a marginal cost.
1. Discounted Courses for Audit: 36% of all American adults are considered professional learners, meaning they have taken training or courses for career advancement purposes. Allowing alumni to audit courses at a discount or for a small fee is one way to facilitate professional learning, keep alumni engaged, and provide connections and networking opportunities for current students. For example, American University offers their alumni the opportunity to audit one course per semester for just $150 per course. On the other hand, Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and New York University – Stern offer alumni the opportunity to audit classes for free with the permission of the professor. Harvard alumni also have free access to select workshops and online learning opportunities (current opportunities include digital health or managing happiness workshops). Mount Saint Mary’s University alumni can audit one class per semester for a nominal fee of $25.00.
2. Library Access: Stanford Alumni Association members have free access to the University’s library and library database of thousands of journals, trade publications, and newspapers. Additionally, Harvard University alumni are allowed to apply for a Library Borrowing Card at no charge, giving alumni on-site access to the library.
3. Reduced Tuition for Alumni: Duke’s Fuqua School of Business invites undergraduate alumni to a working professional master’s degree by offering benefits to those who apply and are accepted, such as guaranteed scholarships.
4. Continuing Legal Education: Duke Law School’s alumni have access to lifelong learning resources such as Continuing Legal Education programs that provide alumni with opportunities to develop new skills relevant to their careers.
Continued Student Services Benefits
Another way to engage alumni is to include them in some of the university services you’re already offering to current students.
5. Career Center Resource for Alumni: Baldwin Wallace University alumni retain access to the University’s career center. The career center features a web-based platform with access to job and internship opportunities, interview tools, a career path tool designed to help alumni find work, and one-on-one advising. Additionally, the University of South Carolina has an alumni career center which offers events. Recent events include Virtual Employer Resume Review and Industry Insights: AI & Data Science Panel.
6. Online Resource Center for Alumni: Duke Graduate School provides alumni with access to an online resource, The Versatile PhD, which helps graduate students and Ph.D.’s in all fields identify, prepare for, and succeed in non-academic careers.
Lastly, networking and community-building options have an immediate benefit to current students (and can help recruit new students) by creating an accessible population of alumni in relevant careers.
7. Networking Opportunities: Alumni networks provide significant value to young alumni seeking to recover from false career starts and improve their chances of employment. For example, the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy offers alumni lectures, informational events, and executive education programs on pressing policy issues to keep alumni well informed. Additionally, Duke Law School offers an Alumni Around the World program, which consists of fellowship, educational, volunteer, and networking opportunities. Georgetown University’s School of Professional Studies offers opportunities to join conference calls and a program LinkedIn group. Program-specific LinkedIn groups enable alumni to give and offer career advice and assist in one another’s job searches.
8. Credit Cards and Other Financial Opportunities: Alumni associations commonly partner with credit card providers to generate money to support programming such as reunions and alumni clubs. Credit cards linked to a university often have several benefits for alumni. Common offers among alumni credit cards include low to no fees, preferred interest rates, redeemable points and cash-back programs, travel discounts, travel insurance and global service, and online shopping discounts.
Beyond credit cards, schools can also partner to bring alumni other financial opportunities. The University of South Carolina, for example, partnered with a credit union to offer special offers for home loans, share certificates, auto loans, checking accounts, and student-loan refinancing.
Adopting one or more of these alumni engagement tactics can help schools create lasting learner loyalty and increase networking opportunities for current students and alumni. Consider incorporating alumni opportunities into existing services and programming, such as career centers and course opportunities, to reduce costs. And of course, highlight the value of your institution’s alumni experience on your website and in marketing materials to help recruit new students.
Juliana Mosqueira Villegas
Juliana Mosqueira Villegas is a Research Associate at EAB on the Market Insights team. She conducts market research to identify opportunities for academic development in higher education and evaluate existing academic programs. She has completed over 55 market insights research projects for institutions across the United States. Prior to joining EAB, Juliana was a research assistant at the University of Maryland where her research consisted of reviewing literature on Gender-Responsive Budgeting and developing a report summarizing important case studies and findings.