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Maintaining Ties: Alumni Activities and Online Programs

Traditional universities have been cultivating alumni relationships for decades. Alumni can be important resource for the university and the university can also remain important to students, offering a range of services even after they graduate. There are a lot of benefits in staying connected to your alma mater. What are online colleges and universities doing to cultivate alumni relationships?

There's power both in time and numbers. Traditional schools have been around longer and so have a larger pool of graduates.  Online schools have not been around as long and are just starting to build groups of active alumni. Capella University, for example, graduated its first students in 1997 and has a current alumni network of 22,000 members, while the University of Michigan, with an alumni association formed in 1897, has over 460,000 living alumni. These alumni can help determine the prestige factor of a school through their career success and contributions to their communities, and can also have an impact on the recruitment of new students.

As the number of graduates of online universities increases, you can expect to see the online schools begin to mention alumni more in marketing campaigns, organize clubs and events, and foster networking. Let's take a closer look at some of the current alumni activities and services you can expect from online schools.

Alumni Associations

Many online universities have founded their own formal alumni associations. These associations serve as a central hub for information and services and work to keep students and institutions connected to one another. Graduates usually elect to join these associations. What can you expect from an alumni association?

  • Publications, typically in the form of newsletters and magazines are often written to address alumni concerns, and many of these are available online and to the public. Kaplan University's Student Newsletter and the University of Phoenix's alumni magazine, Phoenix Focus, are both available openly, without cost or need for a password, and online.
  • Services such as email and insurance programs are available. The University of Phoenix alumni website lists information about insurance programs that alumni may be eligible to join. Other schools offer similar connections with service vendors.
  • Discounts on a variety of consumer products, electronics, and travel are often available to registered alumni. Ashford University's list of alumni discount benefits is available online.
  • Community involvement projects, including volunteer activities and charitable donation collections, are often coordinated by alumni associations. Read more about the upcoming volunteer events at Strayer University on their alumni calendar.
  • Directories can be a valuable resource for networking with past graduates from your academic program. These are often provided online in the form of searchable databases and usually require a login and password to access.
  • Homecoming and reunions take place with online students as well as traditional students. For more information about the University of Phoenix's events, take a look at their Homecoming web page.

In addition to the items listed above, look for other benefits and ways to connect. Some of the current benefits include additional services as well as opportunities to participate in special events.

Continued Access

You'll find a wide range of services and information related to career development and the job search made available by online universities for alumni use. American Public University System (APUS) lists services that include access to employer databases and career assessments, for example. From online articles to one-on-one resume reviews, alumni are often able to work with their school's career services offices for continued support. APUS is also one of several schools that provide alumni with continued access to the school's online academic library.

Mentoring Programs

Matching alumni and current students for professional networking purposes, mentoring programs are gaining popularity in both traditional and online institutions. Kaplan University's Mentoring Network and American Intercontinental University's Alumni Mentoring Program connect graduates with both current students and prospective students. This can be a great way to volunteer and share your knowledge with the next group of graduates.

Regional Clubs

Local alumni chapters have been common for traditional universities for a while, helping alumni to connect all over the country. Online programs, especially those with regional office or campus facilities, have organized groups according to geographic location. American Intercontinental University is just one example of a school with multiple local alumni chapters. These groups offer leadership opportunities, organize service and social events, and sponsor alumni recognition programs.

Social Networking Sites

Online colleges and institutions are embracing social media, and so are their alumni. Search for relevant accounts and profiles in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites. These venues offer additional ways for alumni to communicate within their ranks and with current and prospective students. Discussion forums and alumni profiles allow for the exchange of advice and information within these communities. A few examples are listed below.

Traditional schools with online programs are also using social media to engage students, answer questions, and connect students with alumni. Take a look at the information and interaction on the Old Dominion University-Distance Learning program's Facebook page as an example.

Other opportunities …

… such as lecture series and webinars, book clubs, booths and receptions at professional conferences, and invitations to serve on advisory panels, are all current ways in which alumni are connecting with each other and their institutions.

If you are a graduate, there are multiple ways in which you may benefit from staying connected with your school.

  • Research benefits and services provided by alumni associations and outreach offices.
  • Add your information to alumni directories and volunteer to connect with current and prospective students in formal and informal ways.
  • Find out if there is a local alumni group in your area and get involved with community and social events.

If you are a current student, consider ways you can connect with past graduates from your program.

  • Ask your advisors and counselors about alumni mentorship programs.
  • Reach out to alumni through social networking groups as a way to begin professional networking with those most familiar with your academic program.
  • Find out more about local groups that you can join while you are still a student.
  • Look for alumni publications that provide information about alumni activities and profile successful graduates.

If you are a prospective student, consider alumni organizations as resources in your search for an online program.

  • Find forums, such as social networking sites and on school websites, where you can ask alumni about their experiences at the schools you are considering.
  • Add alumni services to your checklist of items to research when reviewing possible programs. What alumni benefits are you eligible to receive after you graduate?
  • Explore alumni publications for information about alumni success in various career and professional arenas.
  • Look for additional opportunities to meet with or interview alumni for more information, guidance, and advice on choosing academic programs and making plans about your career.

The services and activities provided by online alumni groups are very similar to those you will find in traditional schools. There are benefits for everyone involved: graduates, current students, prospective students, and the institutions themselves. Anticipate expanded offerings as more graduates emerge from online programs and institutions.

August 5th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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