When Hazel Matthews joined the Sullivan University team less than three years ago, she realized the university was letting a critical asset- its alumni base- leave campus after graduation without maintaining a connection to the college. As Director of Alumni Affairs, Matthews began to work relentlessly with others in the university to change that entirely- and it has definitely paid off. Sullivan University, a Blackboard client, now boasts a robust network of over 4,500 alumni with an active website and social media presence. Alumni referrals have brought dozens of new students to the university and have led many others to job referrals and professional opportunities beyond the walls of the career college. Matthews wants others in the professional university sector to understand the “necessity” of alumni engagement, and gave practical advice on how to build a successful network of graduates:
- Employ a team approach: Make sure that staff members across the university understand the importance of alumni relations so they can take ownership of the engagement strategy.
- Take advantage of transcripts: When a graduate requests a transcript, the name and contact information should be forwarded to your alumni association, which then should reach out to reconnect.
- Invite alumni home: Hold events-homecomings, reunions, career days, “rediscovery” days- that help alumni reconnect with one another and your school.
- Use social media: Having an alumni association presence on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and other social media platforms helps former students find you- and helps you find them.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate: Once you’ve reconnected with an alum, make sure your school stays top-of-mind through alumni business networking breakfasts, e-newsletters, “alumnus of the month” contests, campus event listings and more.
During our meeting, Matthews also emphasized that career colleges should view alumni as “the most positive ambassador that will have” in helping a school and its students grow to their full potential. Her final message: strive to begin alumni relations on every student’s first day at your university. When new students see the success of alumni and begin to view them as a resource, they will be empowered to put their education into action as they prepare for the professional world.