What’s included in the Alumni Course

Is it possible to build an overall global strategy to support admissions efforts, alumni communities, academic programs and partnerships, all in an effort to build a strong case for support?

Global alumni engagement crosses over student marketing/recruitment, academic priorities and partnerships, and enhances overall brand recognition — all of which helps international development officers and leadership fundraise. Global alumni relations is a critical thread of sustainability over the long term.

In the closing chapter of Staying Global: How International Alumni Relations Advances the Agenda (EAIE, 2015), I respond to this challenge with a recommendation that may help institutions maintain better data management practices while at the same time more authentically engage international constituents. For a vast majority of institutions that define their alumni demographics as “domestic or international,” there is another category to define and engage.

Traditionally, alumni relations programs have included programming for current students. Today, more campuses are focusing on international student recruitment and this creates another role for international alumni relations officers. By building relationships early between new students, alumni chapters, and even faculty from a specific region, an international alumni relations officer can serve as a valuable liaison for both undergraduate and graduate students. International alumni can mentor students on “what to expect on campus” and select faculty may be interested in taking on a more pastoral or advising role.

Global alumni relations budgets may also be stretched by gifts in kind: the charitable donation of goods or services, as opposed to a direct donation of money to buy goods and services.

In-kind support can come in the form of:

  • Venue space (e.g., your country consulates and embassies, further explored in Module 12).
  • Catering for meetings or events (e.g., wine tasting series for young alumni and family-owned restaurant owner opens up space and provides appetizers while the event ticket price covers the cost of wine and beverages)
  • Production of printed promotional material for global events
  • Local transfers when traveling abroad (e.g., families offering their personal car services when getting around Delhi or Lagos, Nigeria).

The Activity in this module will focus on reviewing existing models and developing new sources of in-kind support.

For educational institutions, the relationship between former and current students is the most important factor of brand management today. Finding the right equation helps defend the institutional brand against the erosion of physical presence as our educational and social transactions continue to be guided by electronic communications. We want to foster a culture of REAL connections and relationships.

Positive reinforcement of your brand is so powerful. In fact, it is a priceless proposition. Mission statements may prevail but today’s climate requires higher thinking that pays attention to culture and relationship building.

Volunteers are at the heart of global alumni relations. Volunteers are the most important resource. And volunteers come from more than just the alumni ranks.

International volunteers do not magically appear with hands raised to help with your efforts abroad. Consider, the “user experience” of the international alum, family member, and friend (e.g., a ‘friend’ is the high school guidance counselor at one of the top “feeder” schools for your university or college). Follow the “5 I’s” of international volunteer management to best build and sustain participation and support.

Families of alumni and current students are key allies abroad. First, the fact that they value and support an international education for their student speaks volumes. Second, the family has made a considerable financial investment. And, third, families care about the reputation of the institution as their child is a product of an international degree! 

Their advice is valuable. Families can also help build stronger reputations for the institutions by helping institution or organization find their “cultural fit” within the environment and continue to make introductions for staff working to expand their work in the region. 

Part 3 of the tutorial in Module 7 discusses the importance of families and regional VIPs as strategic partners with your alumni program. A case study concludes the coaching session.

International alumni are “hard enough just to find” (note to Mark – do we include hyperlink here to Discover Global Alumni product??); if you are serious about cultivating lifetime relationships with this growing body of alumni, the key is to begin building the relationship while they are still students.

Module 8 presents several opportunities and examples of how a global alumni relations program and the international (and domestic) student experience are mutually enhanced when functional areas collaborate.

The definition of Global Alumni Relations includes the outreach to and engagement of faculty and staff. Why the additional focus on faculty and staff? There are several answers: Faculty and staff may have transnational backgrounds supporting their personal and/or professional lives in two or more countries.

Alumni leaders within industry can help leadership, faculty and career services staff understand the needs of industry today.

Faculty may have global objectives with their teaching and/or research and partnering with more alumni with ties to industry and academe can further promote and strengthen opportunities for collaboration.

Faculty and staff with close relationships with colleagues at prestigious foreign institutions can collaborate with other academics as instructors, presenters, event and meeting hosts, and local resources.

Module 9 begins to discuss best practice for building mutually valuable relationships with faculty and staff. A first step must be to establish awareness among these internal stakeholders that they are integral to the global agenda on campus and on the road.

Activity: Identify international alumni and other friends abroad

This activity comes straight from this module’s coaching session. Working with your staff, supervisor and/or the cross-campus global alumni relations working group, answer the following questions:

  1. Who qualifies as an international graduate of your institution? 
  2. Are international students who studied English in a bridge or pathway program tracked in a database? If unsure, which office has this information? What are the next steps?
  3. Are visiting international postdoctoral students and faculty members tracked as ‘friends’ in a database? In unsure, which office has this information? What are the next steps?

Moreover, both institutions and governments alike have set ambitious goals to increase the number of international students. The scale of interest, needs, and opportunity will proportionally increase. Global alumni relations programs can help meet the rising demand experienced today and forecasted for tomorrow.

Yes, programs can facilitate solutions that are based on strong relationships with alumni but do all universities have the capacity to partner with alumni on the employability agenda? Is there interest across campus for affordable and accessible training?

Specifically, the Course’s module 11 responds to the definition of “employability” with examples of how international and domestic alumni play a key role in preparing the next generation of global leaders.

What will education look like in 5-15 years? There is “legacy thinking” and “future thinking.” Legacy thinking is the old way of doing business: bricks and mortar, higher education institutions training graduates for jobs. Future thinking is about ‘intersectional innovation’ and more distance education models. Future thinking brings academe and industry together to figure out the best models for training graduates to fulfill the job needs in the future. 

Alumni are the future of organizations; our past is our future.

How do alumni see the future of education and training? I believe alumni can help institutions (and, governments) understand the needs of industry and be part of the ‘intersectional innovation’ that will be required for higher education institutions to survive. Intersectional innovation will only be achieved when institutional units break through their own silos and work together.

As we have discussed in this course, institutions are interested in alumni providing an endorsement or referral wherever they are. They want alumni to be brand managers for alma mater. Governments are looking to alumni to do the same.

Education is becoming more expensive and consumers – the prospective students and families – are spending more time researching their options. There is much more ‘buyer beware.’ Universities are evaluated on their rankings, the overall student experience, success rates in connecting students to jobs and preparing them for graduate school. The universities reputation reflects on the country’s reputation and vice versa.

Module 12 builds a case for greater collaboration between educational institutions and the public sector as governments help lead the way in promoting reputation and global brand ambassadors.