What is an alumnus worth?

A new ranking in China rates universities by the number of billionaires they have created.  For those taking part in the Rio+20 summit, this may seem an odd way to measure the success of a university.  However, alumni do have an ever more important role in the success of a university, one which has been much undervalued in many countries outside North America.

Alumni have a key role to play in admissions.  With so much competition between institutions and volume of marketing activity, it is sometimes difficult for prospective students to get a clear picture of what a university has to offer.  Alumni can validate marketing promises, having as is said, been there, done that and got the T-shirt.

The alumni role in marketing can be particularly important internationally.  Where it is difficult for prospective students to visit the campus of a potential university, they will often attend an education fair in their own country.  If alumni are present at such a fair, they can provide a first-hand account of that institution.  CarringtonCrisp’s research with prospective MBA students shows that people are more influential in application decisions than information on a website or a marketing brochure.  If attendance at a fair isn’t possible, then putting alumni up as speakers on a webinar can again provide that opportunity for personal interaction.

Alumni also have a potentially important role to play to current students, acting as mentors and advisers.  Such a role can be more time consuming and difficult to organise, but online platforms such as LinkedIn make it easier to establish such relationships.

Where alumni can be particularly powerful is careers.  Alumni can become a source of placement opportunities for potential students or even recruiters of permanent positions for graduates completing degrees.  However, alumni can also supplement official university career services, providing informal advice about different career opportunities or coming on to campus to present on behalf of their employer, the sector they work in or increasingly, advising on the reality of starting a business.

Of course, all of this does not mean that the wealth of alumni counts for nothing.  However, any university seeking donations from alumni should first think about how they engage with their alumni and what alumni get in return.  A strong relationship is likely to help build understanding and willingness to donate what can sometimes be substantial sums to their former university.

However, rather than measuring the net worth of alumni, a better ranking might look at engagement of alumni with their former university and its current and potential students.

CarringtonCrisp will publish a new report in July 2012, Alumni Matters, which has gathered data from more than 2500 business school alumni.

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