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Survey says that alumni networks have limited impact on job prospects

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
    • In a recent survey of US graduates, a large majority of respondents said that the alumni network of their university or college was of little help in their job search
    • This highlights in turn the need for many institutions to expand alumni relations efforts and to draw stronger links between alumni and employment outcomes for recent graduates

A new survey reveals that a vast majority of graduates from American college programmes do not consider their college’s alumni networks to have been helpful to them in the job market. Nearly a quarter (22%) said that these networks were either unhelpful or very unhelpful, more than double the proportion who said they were helpful (9%). The largest proportion (69%) said that alumni networks had been neither helpful nor unhelpful in paving the way to a good job.

The findings come from the latest edition of the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey (formerly the Gallup-Purdue Index), conducted in mid-2018 among more than 5,100 US college graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher. “College students’ expectations are clear on this issue; they are expecting and demanding a good job upon graduation,” says an accompanying research note. “Gallup research suggests that there are many important activities students can engage in during college to increase their odds for landing such a job – namely having an internship during college in which a graduate can apply what they were learning in the classroom – but the research does not support widespread claims that alumni networks are doing so.”

This finding is all the more notable given that many universities tout their alumni networks as a key benefit for students once they graduate and enter the job market. On that point, the survey found that there was very little difference in how students perceived the value of their college’s alumni network across university rankings, with elite institutions rated only slightly higher on how much their alumni networks helped with graduates’ job prospects. One in six (16%) graduates from institutions ranked in the Top 50 US News rankings perceived their college’s alumni networks to have been helpful, compared to 10% from colleges ranked 51–100 and 8% from colleges ranked lower than that.

The minimal increase in perceived helpfulness attached to elite colleges is also noteworthy given the great extent to which these institutions include their alumni networks as key elements in marketing materials and campaigns. In this sense, by not working to enable a more active alumni network, institutions are effectively foregoing an important source of competitive advantage for student recruitment and retention.

As we have observed in the past, “Alumni can add a powerful personal element to a marketing programme. Former students have first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to study at a college or university, and that’s exactly what prospective students are looking for in making study abroad decisions.”

A lost opportunity

The Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey follows another survey we reported on a little while back that highlighted the need for a stronger alumni relations effort in many institutions. That report, produced jointly by Academic Assembly and Intead, gathered responses from more than 100 administrators at American colleges. A major finding there was that a majority of respondents said that their institutions are not doing enough to connect with international alumni; nearly two-thirds reported having no dedicated staff time for global alumni relations.

However, that same study found that more than 50% of responding administrators said that they felt that their alumni networks were “very important” to their international recruitment and branding efforts. But the ability of alumni to impact recruitment results could be blunted by less active alumni networks that are less able to help graduates connect to career opportunities. This represents a major opportunity lost for many higher education institutions, especially given that international students are increasingly choosing universities and programmes on the basis of perceived employment outcomes.

As the Gallup researchers note:

“Making an alumni network useful takes work and intentionality, and that most alumni networks are not actively engaged in supporting fellow alumni in the job market. Importantly, creating an engaged alumnus is nearly impossible if that graduate did not experience a fulfilling undergraduate experience. 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.”

Faculty a major career support

While a minority of US college students surveyed by Strada-Gallup find alumni networks helpful in their search for a good job, a much greater proportion (88%) received at least some career advice from either faculty or career services.

Interestingly, more graduates (a third) said that they often received advice from faculty or staff compared to those who said they did through their career services office (22%). And the quality of advice was also deemed to be better when it came from faculty or staff: 49% found staff/faculty guidance helpful or very helpful versus 30% who said the same about guidance from career services.

For additional background, please see:

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