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Fahimeh Moradi-Afrapoli

The universities try to maintain relations with their graduates, collect information about their current location, their employment and job information, and their current achievements. The leading educational institutes in the United States have well-structured Alumni follow up programs. What are the motives and the goals of this effort?Mr. WordPress

Introduction

Global Perspectives Program (GPP), an exchange program between University of Basel in Switzerland and Virginia Tech University in the United States, provides the participants a great opportunity to get more familiar with the higher education structure in Switzerland, to get insights from the higher education institutes in the US, and to network with the students and professionals from the two countries. The close touch of the existing differences and similarities enhance the understanding of the Global higher education system. The American educational institutes display notable differences with those in Europe, in various aspects: from the campus-focused student-life to the students’ enrollment costs, the universities financial sources, the public presentations and advertisements, the habituation to the social networking sites, and etc.
The attempt of the American universities to maintain contact with the students after their graduation is also remarkable. Alumni are an important segment of the educational organizations. The universities try to maintain relations with their graduates, collect information about their current location, their employment and job information, and their current achievements. The leading educational institutes in the United States have well-structured Alumni follow up programs. What are the motives and the goals of this effort?

Who are the stakeholders?

Universities are the main winners

Traditionally, the donation from the alumni to their alma mater was one of the fundraising resources for the American universities. Most of the US universities are financially self-dependent. Therefore, the initial aim for providing alumni-follow up systems was maintaining relationships with the alumni who could donate to their home university.

During the GPP visit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, one of the leading higher education institutes in the US, we have observed some research institutes such as the David H. Koch Institute for cancer research, and also undergraduate dormitories such as Maseeh Hall which were established and renovated with the aid of the alumni donations. The buildings were named after the alumni who gifted the institute. Some other donations sponsor researches, student projects or cover the scholarships and financial aid for the current students. There is a donation culture built among the alumni population of the American universities. The alumni feel that they owe their alma mater for the opportunities they face following the education and preparation they received at their university, and by gifting their university they can pay it back. However, the alumni participation also has a positive influence on the institutes’ rankings.

Nowadays the role of the alumni is not limited to their financial supports. Rather than fundraising, the information gathered by the alumni systems provides a vast amount of organized data which is a valuable source for data mining. This information can benefit the institution to improve the standards, make necessary changes to curriculum, and consequently, increase the quality of education and the services being provided by the university.

Universities need to market themselves to attract good students. Producing quality professionals is an indicator of the leading educational institutions. To advertise their affiliation, universities invite their successful alumni to give talks to the current students on their career path. The outstanding alumni who had great improvement in their career path represent their university, and do promote the brand of the university. Moreover, alumni of the leading international universities take their knowledge from the university to their home countries and into their social and professional networks. Usually, a word-of-mouth marketing is generated in their new location.

Alumni appreciate the benefits

Going deeper in this topic, following the interviews and discussions with people, revealed that the alumni themselves as well as the current students are also cheerful for having access to the alumni system of their home university.

With the vast development of technology, alumni systems are getting far from traditional static systems of personal information and newsletters. Getting the advantage of the social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., alumni systems are getting interactive and provide a great platform of social and professional networking among the alumni as well as the current students. Many alumni are willing to be engaged in the alumni system of their alma mater since it provides them a unique platform to keep in touch with their classmates and fellows, to keep the old friendships and to maintain the contact with their universities long after graduation.

Some institutes provide special benefits for their alumni such as negotiated benefits with third-party suppliers, having access to the sport facilities, keeping their university email, etc.

Employment statistics of the graduates is considered as an assessment tool for the universities output. Therefore, universities help their alumni to find a job. Some institutions offer their own database of jobs online. In many cases alumni share job opportunities in the alumni networking websites.

The current students are getting involved

Current students are one of the major groups who benefits by maintaining the contact with the alumni. Some universities allow the current students to access the alumni systems, particularly, through social media. Many alumni are eager to provide mentoring to the students from their home universities. Alumni systems provide a great opportunity for the current students to interact with experienced people with similar interests and to receive advice from them. Interaction with the experienced alumni helps to get updated about the current professional preferences and desires, technologies and opportunities, and also job openings. The benefits that the current students receive from the university alumni system are encouraging. For many students it raises the dream of a day that they will be the outstanding alumni of their university. It facilitates one of the challenges that the universities face: attracting the future alumni to enroll in the follow up systems. Engagement of current students through social media such as the LinkedIn group enhances the transition from being a student to becoming an alumnus.