Graduation Rates vs. Giving Rates

It seems to me that more and more institutions want to create buzz about their graduation rates and their job placement rates.

“Come here and not only will you graduate, you’ll land a job!”

Sounds like the perfect pitch for a product. Buy this, get that.

That needs to change (and I think it will change).

Giving rates should be the new metric to show the success of an institution.

If you saw a stat such as, “80% of our graduates give back to the institution through monetary donations and/or volunteering their time at events.” What would you think about that institution?

For me, that shows that this institution has created ambassadors of the brand. The institution has built connections so deep that even after the cap and gown, students want to stay connected and continue to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

That says to me that the group of faculty and professionals on campus get the proverbial it. Why?

Because like a good restaurant that gets repeat customers due to outstanding service, those faculty and professionals have provided something to students that leaves them wanting to never forget it or leave it behind… a community of support, trust, and care.

Don’t show me how many students your process through the curriculum and give a degree to. Show me how successful you are at retaining your customers beyond the life of your product. Classes may end, connections don’t have to.

8 thoughts on “Graduation Rates vs. Giving Rates

  1. Ah, Joe. You’re so idealistic – and I love that about you! The general consumers of higher education (and let’s be real, they see themselves as consumers), do not understand nor care about the importance of alumni giving. Heck, most consumers of higher education don’t know a thing about how institutions are financed – all they care about is their own bottom line.

    Let’s change the conversation about the cost of education to better help consumers (and government officials) understand why college “costs so much” and include information about the importance of alumni giving. That might, just might, help change things (at least a little bit).

    • Hahah I have to be – these seemingly outrageous ideas could spark something in someone to make something else happen.

      To me though, and yes I agree potential consumers may not care but I think some will (not critical mass but some) notice that stat.

      “Here is an institution that creates such a community that over 80% of those who graduate find a way to stay connected and give back? That’s powerful!”

      The problem is, no one sees the value in that because graduation/placement rates have been assigned value by the public. You go here, you are bound to graduate and they’ll even land you a job. That’s what people are paying for.

      But, if you look at some of the most successful products they are successful because people are loyal to them.

      Buy one of the first gen iPods and it was so good, you need an iMac. Now you are hooked and being an Apple ambassador. Buying, supporting, and spreading the news about the brand and products. Why aren’t we trying to harvest that in higher education?

      So many students leave (this is to your point of rising costs) saddled with debt that the idea of giving a penny more to the institution is absurd in their mind (I was there!).

      The problem is, in my opinion, students see their college experience as a product with an expiration date. We need to fix that. It shouldn’t end after graduation, it shouldn’t end…period. If you create loyal students/alumni then you have word of mouth marketing that will far exceed anything your marketing budget is capable of. You’ll essentially have hundreds (if not thousands) of unofficial admissions counselors around the world, touting your brand for you…for free!

      Yea it is idealistic but you know what, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be something to be thought about.

      Thanks for reading Carolyn!

      • Joe – I’m with you.

        I spoke with a student here yesterday about the value of the connection to the college as alumni and how that comes about more from the community experience in college than the job placement at the end. Now that he is here is understands the value of this more than before.

        The current economy does however dictate a lot of how institutions market themselves… and between the current rate of economic growth and the cost of higher education, job placement is for – better or worse – a key factor that students and parents (as consumers) need to consider. Given the size of the investment, this is one way we can help them kick the tires when buying a car and or review comparables when buying a house.
        Maybe as the economy continues to improve and job growth expands, emphasis can shift back to the value of the college experience
        Separate but related, social media is completely redefining how people feel — and are — connected. Alumni are connected with each other through Facebook, Linked In, not through their alma mater (yearbooks, reunions, newsletters,etc.) This too is a big challenge for colleges and university. Along this lined I had a good laugh this past Sunday with a fellow alumnus from my undergraduate alma mater becasue we both still have a physical copy of the student phone books from when we were in college.

        • The challenge then Brian is to find ways to keep students especially engaged and connected in their third or fourth year (for 4-year schools) so that they don’t seen alumni communications as “please send us a check” – this is where social media comes in.

          If you highlight alumni, share resources, inform them, and start genuine sharing & conversations – when it comes time to ask for something (start with time instead of money) they may be more likely to give.

          Alumni offices too often are like door-to-door sales – pop up out of no where and asking for your money.

          An institution spends 4 years with this customer on campus, how can they not have the data to create a profile for each student to realize, “Ok for Joe, post graduation, we should focus on sharing stuff about Z, Y, and D. That’s what he did here, so let’s keep that interest based here.”

          If CVS can send me coupons for almonds and old spice because I shop there occasionally, how after 4 years of being on campus can an institution not do the same type of targeted, specialized approach???

      • Well said overall Joe. Couple of comments from me. First, I agree 100% that this statement is powerful.

        “Here is an institution that creates such a community that over 80% of those who graduate find a way to stay connected and give back? That’s powerful!”

        This may actually get me to at least consider why I have not helped with alumni giving (behavioral economics at its finest, I could spend hours writing on this) since I did have a truly remarkable experience. There were great times and challenges that I learned from that made my experience.

        Also, what kills me is why parents/consumers don’t ask about the job placement numbers reported by universities. “95% of graduates are placed within 6 months.” This is terribly misleading and could be interpreted several ways. The first question I ask is, how many of those 95% are working in jobs that were related to their major? Are they working at Starbucks right out of school to make money before deciding what to do? The numbers are misleading at best, but more importantly I’ve never once heard anyone ask well what does that job placement number really mean. They see the number, assess that they like it and accept it for face value. Universities need to stop placing the value on that and putting it towards community involvement or alumni participation. It would be impressive if a university could say. “Not only are 80% giving back but 75% of them are attending alumni events at least quarterly and two-thirds are actively keeping up with university’s plans/events/subscribing to newsletters/interacting on linkedin or twitter.” Nothing else is needed to prove that that institution is a special one.

        The Fairfield Mirror should run a monthly piece based on alumni contributions on a specific issue currently affecting the campus. Could be a nice way to keep the connections coming.

        I think I got a little sidetracked there, sorry.

        • Tom,

          This: Not only are 80% giving back but 75% of them are attending alumni events at least quarterly and two-thirds are actively keeping up with university’s plans/events/subscribing to newsletters/interacting on linkedin or twitter.” Nothing else is needed to prove that that institution is a special one.

          Exactly what I mean. That needs to be translated to incoming students and families as, “Listen, when you come here you aren’t done in 4 years. When you get accepted into this institution, you are a member of this community for life.”

          I like the Mirror idea! Would definitely add some more substance to that publication.

          Thanks for commenting Tom!

  2. This speaks to the eroding divide between university/college and the ‘real world’. While we certainly expect and often want our students to persist to graduation, we cannot ignore that there is life outside our walls and our students have experiences that shape them with or without us. Keeping our connections fluid and ongoing, regardless of the ‘student status’ that comes with paying tuition fees supports learning that is truly lifelong and not bound by institutional definitions.

    • Lisa, what this means to me is that we need to reframe this from a transaction that ends in 2,3,4,5 years and more of a transformation and membership to a community, networking, club.

      I know you won’t agree with that language because it creates exclusivity but it’s true and it is needed. Students in institutions should feel the sense of belonging to something greater than just their class, their res hall, or their club. They are a part of the larger campus audience and community.

      Sad thing is, that usually isn’t emphasized until graduation day when offices start handing out flyers for annual giving.

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