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August 15, 2018

3 Ways Career Services Can Prove ROI to Alumni

By Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin@aluminateus.com

11 minutes

How can institutions prove ROI for alumni through career service and professional development programs?

Last month, we released our 2018 Career Services for Alumni Assessments report. We were startled to see that almost all of the respondents reported that 25% or less of their resources for career services go to alumni!

With ever-shrinking resources, alumni are often the neglected stepchild of career services. But students, alumni, parents, and other stakeholders are paying attention and asking tough questions regarding the ROI of the rising costs of higher education.

Our Research Consortium members asked for real examples of what institutions are doing to serve alumni, and we listened. As a follow-up to our assessment, I interviewed three practitioners at institutions doing outstanding work in the area of career services for alumni:

-Sharon Belden Castonguay, Director of the Gordon Career Center at Wesleyan University, who shared insights about their online course “Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact”;

-Kathryn Jackson, Director, Career Development Center & Quinlan Business Career Services Loyola University Chicago, who spoke with me about their Alumni Job Club;

-Ashley Gillum, Director of Program Development for Alumni and Constituent Relations at Central Washington University, who described their alumni-student mentoring program.

Profile 1: Wesleyan University’s Online Course

Where and how did this program start?

The Gordon Career Center at Wesleyan University is a fully staffed department of 13. Sharon Belden Castonguay, the Director, is an adult developmental psychologist. One of her office’s main goals is to engage students early in their college career so that students are less likely to be unhappy in their first jobs. They are trying to find solutions that are scalable.

Wesleyan already has an established connection with Coursera; even their university president teaches a MOOC (massive online open course). Institutional leadership showed an interest in offering a MOOC for young professional alumni who were unsatisfied with their career. Sharon thought perhaps those young professionals did not learn or practice effective self-assessment during their undergraduate years and instead took the first job they were offered or did what was expected of them. She sees this course, “Career Decisions: From Insight to Impact,” as a solution.

What is the program? How is it run?

This course walks participants through the process of unpacking what influenced their career decisions and helps them learn the importance of constantly evaluating new options by giving them the psychology tools to do that. They rolled the course out as a MOOC to the general public first, as a way to test it and make tweaks. They’re currently offering this MOOC to incoming students, and are designing a version of the course for alumni who are roughly 10 years post-graduation. Regarding scalability, the MOOC is somewhat autonomous. Learners assess each other’s progress. The time commitment to complete the course depends on the individual, because it can be so reflective. At a minimum, it is about a 2-3 hour per week commitment for participants.

The MOOC format can be an effective, cost-efficient way to engage a large number of regional alumni and help foster a virtual community, which may help demonstrate ROI for those alumni.

Cost to alumni?

The course is free for students and alumni.

How is it innovative or unique?

The course does not follow the traditional model of teaching participants about resume writing or interview preparation skills. Instead, it is more theoretical; for example, during the course, participants look at cultural norms and the American definition of success and use the design thinking framework to do different types of mind-mapping, which they are encouraged to share with each other as a way of building connections. If there is demand, Sharon noted, they could expand it to include more practice or skill-based activities.

Wesleyan University campus in fall. Copyright www.wesleyan.edu/.
How is it promoted and assessed?

They are working with the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations and University Communications to plan the roll out for the alumni course; they’re publishing an article in the alumni magazine, promoting it through social media, etc. Regarding assessment, Coursera builds some assessment into their platform. Sharon’s office also uses Handshake and sends a one-question survey each time someone uses their career services. For the alumni version of the course, rather than predicting what the engagement level for this brand new alumni offering will be, they want to benchmark the course against itself later.

Learn more about how ALUMinate can help you better connect with alumni through data.
Final takeaway?

Part of the impetus for this course is that Wesleyan has struggled to meet the demand for career services for young alumni, especially because the institution primarily serves undergraduate students. Sharon told me that she believes liberal arts colleges and universities are the final frontier for career services; there is a lot to be done at these institutions versus professional schools which may historically have prioritized career services higher.

Profile 2: Loyola University’s Alumni Job Club

Where and how did this program start?

Loyola University Chicago’s Career Development Center is a full-service center that engages students from before they arrive to campus their first year all the way through post-retirement. The Job Club, started by Loyola’s Career Development Center Director Kathryn Jackson, is one component of these services.

What is the program? How is it run?

The Job Club, advertised on the university website as an “accountability group,” is designed for unemployed and underemployed alumni who, for whatever reason, aren’t seeking one-on-one career advising and may want more of a peer-to-peer connection. It’s based on a 6-week curriculum and run by a career counselor (at Loyola, all of these are licensed professional counselors). Each session is capped at 10 participants, and run during the lunch hour at Loyola’s downtown campus, which is easily accessible via public transit. Per national trend, these sort of job clubs have increased in popularity; Loyola is running one almost every quarter and meeting the demand. As Kathryn Jackson explained, any program they do is driven by alumni need.

Lake Michigan provides the backdrop at Loyola University Chicago’s Lake Shore Campus on Thursday, July 24, 2014. (photo by Natalie Battaglia)
Cost to alumni?

The Job Club is a free service and comes with materials and additional coaching outside the group from the person who runs it. The support of this free accountability group paired with individualized coaching is an effective way for Loyola to demonstrate to their alumni that they still matter to the institution. In turn, this may make the alumni more likely to invest in Loyola once they experience the career success that the Job Club helped foster.

How is it innovative or unique?

The concept of job clubs has been around for a few decades; in fact, Kathryn Jackson ran one in her graduate school. However, Loyola’s Job Club is innovative because of its intimacy (direct, small-group support) and because of how intentionally designed it is. When Kathryn’s office develops services, they conduct an extensive audience segmentation to be mindful of who they serve, and use a development model that looks at career stages through lifespan development. Their services to students and alumni are based on the individual’s life stage. They then provide holistic assistance including in-depth career discernment conversations to help alumni find the best path and strategies to support that path.

Want to know more about how ALUMinate can help you design lifecycle stage-specific services and programs for your alumni? Contact us today.

In addition, their office focuses on counseling; they leave programing and fundraising to alumni relations. This creates better clarity of focus. They also have an open reciprocity approach to career services for alumni from other Jesuit institutions.

How is it promoted and assessed?

Their office has stepped up promotion efforts and relationship-building across the university. But Kathryn’s found that, thanks to social media and the ways people are more connected these days, word of mouth has really helped them find interested alumni.

Currently, her office tracks participants’ completion of the program. They ask the participants to share any outcomes information once they finish the group. Although this is not mandatory, her office receives emails regularly about how useful the Job Club has been.

Final takeaway?

Support from university leadership contributes to this program’s success. Loyola’s current strategic plan, Plan 20/20, prioritizes career-readiness and post-graduate success. Kathryn’s office wants to offer programs and services that are not only great products that demonstrate what the university is doing, but that really help their 120,000 alumni. Whatever way makes the most sense for the alumni is how they want to serve them.

Profile 3: Central Washington University’s Alumni-Student Mentoring program

Where and how did this program start?

Ashley Gillum is the Director of Program Development in Alumni and Constituent Relations at Central Washington University. Her office is housed under Advancement. From an alumni relations point of view, they are moving from a model that is more relational over transactional, and the mentorship program is a pivotal piece in that. The mentoring program, a collaborative effort between her department and Career Services, is now about two years old.

What is the program? How is it run?

They use the Symplicity platform, which Career Services already has. To join the mentoring program, alumni fill out a form with questions about their field and history at the university, their hobbies and interests, and why they’d like to become a mentor. Students fill out a similar form and are then hand-matched by university staff.

As Ashley Gillum explained, the mentorship program is more than just a collaboration between her office and Career Services. During the trial year, she discovered that many campus departments already had informal mentorship programs. ”We didn’t want to step in and take over anyone’s role,” said Ashley. Instead, they’ve helped those departments streamline their processes and set new standards. The Student Alumni Association itself is only three years old. During the mentoring program’s first year, they matched 50 juniors and seniors with mentors! Now, in the program’s second year, they have a new alumni coordinator in the College of Arts and Humanities. One of her primary goals is to create a mentorship program  that brings in 50 new mentors and mentees for that college. Their ambitious long-term goal is to find mentors for all students. As far as Ashley knows, this has never been done before.

Cost to alumni?

This program is free for alumni who are members of the student alumni association.

How is it innovative or unique?

This program is really fostering connections within the institution and with the broader Washington state community. Ashley Gillum’s department is partnering with faculty and university administrators to get recommendations for students for the program, because they realize that faculty often know the students so well and have insights that no one else does. One student who went on a corporate tour of a Boeing facility and attended a corresponding young professionals event was later offered a job at Boeing! Ashley told me that this is just one example–according to their research, at least 47% of students in the mentoring program attributed a job or internship to the program.

How is it promoted and assessed?

They check in with the alumni and students in the program monthly. Afterward, they conduct a follow-up survey for feedback. Ashley Gillum believes word of mouth will continue to help grow the program since they can already see the impact they’re having.

Final takeaway?

This mentorship program has already demonstrated ROI to alumni. Alumni not only reconnect with CWU, but through mentoring they see the value and impact of their education feel a renewed sense of appreciation for their chosen fields.  

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We hope these detailed examples are useful to you. We believe career services can be an effective way for alumni to see both the value of their degree and the value of their commitment to the institution.

Did you know that ALUMinate can help you design and implement strategic professional development events and programs for alumni in your major regions? Click here to learn how.

And be sure to check back on September 11th for our inside look at capital campaigns!

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