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Alumni Networks Less Helpful Than Advertised

Alumni Networks Less Helpful Than Advertised

by Zac Auter and Stephanie Marken

Many universities boast about how influential their alumni networks are in ensuring students are gainfully employed upon graduation. This promise has become so ubiquitous in higher education that there are several publicly available rankings of the most powerful alumni networks. These networks are often ranked based upon alumni donorship rates.

It is clear why colleges and universities boast about these strong networks: Career-related reasons are the single most frequently mentioned reason college students report attending higher education in the first place, and most Americans believe completing a college degree is essential to getting a good job. Additionally, having a good job upon graduation has been consistently demonstrated as critical to graduates' long-term success.

Gallup asked 5,100 graduates just how helpful these undergraduate alumni networks have been in their careers thus far. Unfortunately, just 9% of graduates reported their alumni network has been very helpful or helpful to them in the job market. More than twice as many graduates (22%) report it has been very unhelpful or unhelpful. The vast majority of graduates (69%) report it was neither helpful nor unhelpful -- which means alumni networks are a non-factor for many graduates in the job market.

Perceived Helpfulness of Institution's Alumni Network in the Job Market
U.S. College Graduates
Alumni network helpful or very helpful 9
Alumni network neither helpful nor unhelpful 69
Alumni network unhelpful/very unhelpful 22
Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, Apr. 25-Jun 2, 2018

These results are based on the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey (formerly the Gallup-Purdue Index), conducted April 25-June 3, 2018, with more than 5,100 U.S. college graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher.

Many highly ranked, selective universities, and higher education leaders declare that elite universities maintain an advantage over less selective institutions and that their alumni networks are more helpful to their graduates. Gallup finds little evidence to suggest that's the case. There are statistically significant but substantively minor differences in alumni's perceptions of their network based on whether they graduated from an elite institution or not.

One in six alumni from top 50 ranked U.S. News colleges and universities say their alumni network has been helpful or very helpful to them in the job market. While these alumni are slightly more likely than alumni from lower-ranked schools to perceive their alumni network as helpful, the differences are relatively minor and unlikely to offset the significant differences in tuition costs.

US News College and University Rankings
Ranked 1-50 Ranked 51-100 Ranked 101+
% % %
Alumni Network helpful/very helpful 16 10 8
Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey

Interestingly, alumni network helpfulness also does not differ for graduates from different majors, genders or by the size or control of the institution (public versus private) they attended.

College students' expectations are clear on this issue; they are expecting and demanding a good job upon graduation. Gallup research suggests that there many important activities students can engage in during college to increase their odds for landing such a job -- namely having an internship during college in which a graduate can apply what they were learning in the classroom -- but the research does not support widespread claims that alumni networks are doing so.

Many forward-thinking universities are actively engaged in the hard work of mobilizing their alumni networks, but Gallup research suggests that making an alumni network useful takes work and intentionality, and that most alumni networks are not actively engaged in supporting fellow alumni in the job market. Importantly, creating an engaged alumnus is nearly impossible if that graduate did not experience a fulfilling undergraduate experience. The most active and successful networks will be the result of programming that shows students support while they are students and that motivates them to contribute upon graduation.

Learn more about how the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey works.

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