Millennial Engagement after Graduation: Engaging Recent Alumni in Non-Traditional WaysMichael Jones | Assistant Director of Alumnae/i Outreach and Partnerships, Vassar College
Millennials is what they call us—the generation that entered colleges and universities around the world aspiring to do whatever it is we enjoyed the most. We choose majors that make us happy, borrow money to pay for school, buy new computers and cars and live in that fancy house with seven of our best friends without much thought of how to one day pay back the high balances of our school loans.
Yes, this is the category I fall into as well. Confused if that most recent deduction from my bank account was my monthly rent on my apartment or just my student loan payment. Most importantly, I thought after years of schooling at my chosen institution, I would receive something more than a phone call asking If I wanted to donate money to a scholarship fund.
This was the type of engagement I received from my alma mater after graduation: a phone call twice a year from a student asking if I would donate money for some scholarship or fund the campus was trying to reign in money for. I would often think to myself, “Was not my $100K dollars of tuition over the years enough?!” after receiving one of these calls.
Don’t get me wrong though—I loved my undergraduate experience and the institution, and still do. I attended Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA as a music therapy major with voice as my major instrument. Music was my passion and singing was what navigated me through it. It was not until I stood on stage, as president of my class, to deliver the commencement speech that I realized that my passion came at a price and I would soon have to start paying back my loans while my alma mater pursued my pockets in hopes of me “giving back” to the next generation.
The Seton Hill alumnus I thought I would be has changed over the past half-decade since graduation. I left the idea of pursing music therapy and replaced it with college administration. That was the key for me. I did not necessarily give back to my institution monetarily, but being an administrator offered the opportunity to help future college students navigate their own journey.
It was not until July 2016 when I came to Vassar College as Assistant Director of Alumnae/i Outreach and Partnerships within the Career Development Office that I realized that alumni can give back to their alma mater in a way that is less of a financial burden.
Throughout my career in higher education until this point, I had never thought of how an institution could strategically organize efforts for alumni to give to the next generation of their alma mater without writing a check or buying a random bench on campus. But Vassar did. My position was created to maintain and foster meaningful relationships between alumni and students and, unintentionally, the institution.
Alums remember their experience on campus. They remember where they studied, the student organizations they were in, the campus programs and events they attended and who was their MVP when it came to administrators and faculty on campus. They also remember the experience and obstacles of transitioning from an institution after graduation. We call this “Life after Vassar” at my institution and invite the best resources to talk about it with our students: our alumni. Creating affinity based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or an academic department, Vassar creates unique opportunities for the alumni body on and off campus to provide insights on the journey ahead.
From our office, we designed a variety of different opportunities that allow alumni to participate in ways most conducive to their schedules. Some serve as a resource though our alumni directory where students can e-mail questions or speak via phone to gain understanding about an industry, a company or a career while other programming allows alumni to participate in group discussions (both in person and through webinar technology) on subjects such as applying to graduate school and networking dos and don’ts. Recently, our campus has began laying the groundwork for an initiative called “Hire Vassar,” an initiative that allows alumni to filter job and internship opportunities with their perspective companies to increase engagement with the institution and also support the future of Vassar students.
This level of engagement with our alumni is meaningful in the ways that it allows graduates from a large span of years to stay current with their campus and current with our students. More and more, we find that students want to hear from those who have walked the journey before them about what they can expect on the road ahead. What institutions like Vassar are beginning to notice, however, is that alumni feel the same. They too want to hear the changes that are happening from their institution and how they can give back, both philanthropically and as a source of knowledge for tomorrow’s future.
As important as it is for institutions to consider the support and resources their alumni can be, it is equally important to consider the multitude of ways the institution can provide support to them. My alma mater provides discounted continuing education options for those looking to receive advance degrees from the institution. Vassar College, like many schools, offers life-long career and professional services to the alumni body. Most importantly, the students who are currently enrolled can benefit the most from the engagement with alumni. Students can learn so much from those who went before them. But it’s up to the institution to create the bridge between students and alumni.
Author Perspective: Administrator