May 17, 2013

Alumni Relations in the Age of Online Education (Part Two)

Think about it.  Pretend you are a college student, registered at any given institution, taking most of your courses online with the blessing of the school.  Soon, you begin to hear that there are some really interesting classes offered by other institutions that will give credit toward your degree.  Then you learn that there are a lot of these courses that you can take for much less money than the tuition your home campus is charging.  Then you realize that you can take all of your courses online, from a variety of schools, for a lot less than signing up to attend a traditional campus based institution, even if it offers online courses and accepts others.  Granted, the ultimate degree won’t be as recognizable, or as prestigious as the traditional system we have known in this country, but then again, perhaps that’s not what counts anymore.

Do you need friends?  In addition to the ability to send photographs of your most recent mani-pedi to every single person you know via Facebook, you have an entire new population of school chums available through your online courses, and it is an international population.  Already, enrollees through Udacity, Coursersa and edX are trading insights and commiseration with fellow students on multiple continents – and after all, isn’t online relationship maintenance the preferred medium today anyway?

If we don’t act quickly, the historical definition of alumni relations as we have known it is complete toast.  It may be already.  What does attendance at your reunion look like these days?  What does it take to get an appointment, press the flesh, make live eye contact (let’s not forget Skype and FaceTime!) – all presumed fundamentals to engagement and effective fundraising.

Alumni relations must become increasingly social media based.  It must convince academic leaders that institutional alumni marketing must be linked to online course offerings.  We must find ways to offer attractive online alumni programs to facilitate communication between and among alumni – no matter how flimsy the definition of may appear to them initially.  Remember, recent graduates never have appreciated their special status for what it is worth, so the basic challenge is the same.

We must derive entirely new forms of recognition for alumni achievement and service.  We must reduce the existing limitations to reach – or at least hear from – institutional leaders, including key faculty leaders and icons.  We must revise our offerings of institutional identity to reflect the latest versions of what people – and especially young people – hold dear.  We must invest in design, to make our offerings attractive.  And we must simplify.  As there is more and more available on the internet, those who make it fast, easy and attractive will win.

I’ll bet many of you reading this have already been thinking about this conundrum.  I welcome your feedback!

Written by

Clyde Watkins

Clyde P. Watkins is Of Counsel at TWB Fundraising.


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