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Business schools not living up to their alumni network promises

Business schools rely on strong graduate networks to attract prospective students and to serve as global brand ambassadors. However, a new global survey of graduates has found they are falling short when it comes to engaging with alumni.

Business schoolsPhoto: CarringtonCrisp.

"I would encourage institutions to remain creative and continue to ask the alumni what they think works best"

Career support is a “critical” area business schools will need to improve if they want to create more engaged alumni, argues a report from education market consultancy CarringtonCrisp, which found just one in five alumni definitely agree their school has a strong alumni network

Business schools also need to put greater focus on maintaining online channels in order to reap the benefits of their global graduate networks and overcome the “tyranny of distance”.

More than a third of recent business school leavers said they were unhappy with the career support they received

Unsurprisingly, alumni who reported having a positive experience at business school are more likely to remain connected after they graduate – nearly 90% of engaged alumni said they were satisfied with their student experience overall.

But the survey of 2,635 business school leavers – whose graduation years date back to 1961 – found as many as half were unhappy with the career support they received.

Satisfaction levels have increased significantly over the last two decades, though there is still much room for improvement. Of the alumni who graduated within the last three years, 61% agreed that their institution’s career support was good, compared to 35% who graduated more than 20 years ago.

But there remains a gap between happy graduates and engaged alumni. Some 80% of survey takers said they are both positive towards their business school and proud to be associated with it, but half as many said they agree “to any extent” that they still feel engaged with their school.

These figures highlight “a significant reservoir of goodwill” that, if harnessed effectively, “can be leveraged to a school’s benefit”, argues the report.

“Many schools promote their alumni network to candidates as a key benefit, but progress is needed to ensure the reality lives up to the promise, with only one in five (21%) alumni definitely agreeing their school has a strong alumni network,” said Andrew Crisp, the consultancy’s co-founder and co-author of the report.

Alumni communities online and digital communication channels play a “distinctive role” in alumni engagement, according to the report.

The survey found that more than three quarters of alumni who regularly visit Facebook or LinkedIn groups agree their school’s alumni network is strong, compared to only 50% of those who never visit the groups, the survey found.

And 83% of graduates who visit their school’s alumni webpages – which often don’t provide any interaction with alumni – rate the network as very strong, compared to 40% of those who never visit the website.

But participation rates in online communities set up by business schools remain low – only one in ten people who took part in the survey were classified as regular users – and highlight the challenge schools face in encouraging active participation from their alumni.

It’s not enough to simply create digital spaces for graduates to interact with each other and the school, the report counsels, but how schools use them will be crucial.

“Schools need to consider how they can make better use of social media to cultivate greater alumni engagement and benefit from their support and loyalty,” commented Crisp.

“Many schools promote their alumni network to candidates as a key benefit, but progress is needed to ensure the reality lives up to the promise”

“Whilst social media and digital communication is key, it’s not simply about having a Facebook or LinkedIn page, but creating content that provides real benefits and value to alumni,” he said.

Gretchen Dobson, vice president of international alumni and graduate affairs at Academic Assembly, a global education operations management company, agreed online engagement requires more effort than traditional alumni newsletters or printed magazines.

“It is one thing to build a LinkedIn group of alumni members, but how many of these members return to the space and participate in discussions? How many alumni feel motivated to share an alum’s op-ed piece with their other networks?” she said. “I would encourage institutions to remain creative and continue to ask the alumni what they think works best.”

Dobson added that business school graduates are inherently more likely than graduates in other fields to expect and contribute to supportive alumni networks, underlining the importance of improving alumni engagement.

“Business schools attract students who understand that networking is part of the DNA of their program,” she said. “Some students choose their business school based on the reputation of esteemed alumni, faculty and the opportunity to network their way to an internship or a job. The alumni network becomes stronger with engaged students.”

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