I’ve been thinking quite a bit about using alumni to help recruit international students. It seems a ‘no-brainer’ and an obvious way help boost international student recruitment. At the recent NAFSA annual conference in Houston, the topic came up in a number of discussions; the Americans are far better at using their alumni than we are here in the UK.
How could we use our international alumni to engage and attract prospective students overseas? International alumni hold great potential to be effective recruiters: location, ie. they are where the prospective students are; they have first-hand knowledge of the university; they are enthusiastic supporters of the institution with (hopefully) only positive things to say about it; they want to help and be involved with their alma mater.
The benefits to the institution for using alumni in this way are clear: more prospective students can be reached, particularly in destinations where the international recruitment officers will not be visiting; alumni are a low-cost recruitment tool; usually very little training will be required to use alumni as recruiters; on the whole, alumni will be reliable, responsible and trusted to get the job done.
In the United States, colleges and universities have been using their alumni to help recruit new students for a long time, particularly within the country. See the University of Michigan alumni webpages as an example. Many other US institutions have similar pages on their alumni websites, although I’m not sure how much is being done internationally using overseas alums. I’m a member of two US university alumni organizations, the University of Texas (Bachelor’s) and New York University (Master’s). I think the Texas Exes are doing some recruitment work, particularly in the London area, but I don’t think the NYU alumni association has done much to engage UK alumni to help with recruitment. This should change now that NYU is calling itself a ‘global network university’.
Institutions in the UK still have a lot to learn when it comes to effectively engaging and utilizing alumni. To be fair, it is a relatively new concept for universities here, particularly the fundraising/development side of it. I looked at about 15 different UK university alumni websites, and while they are comprehensive, they’re nowhere near as sophisticated as the American ones. And only one UK university alumni website (that I saw) mentioned anything about getting involved to help recruit new students: Royal Holloway University of London. Clearly, there is scope for growth here.
I’d be interested to hear from people working at UK universities where you feel you are successfully reaching your alumni, or perhaps have developed an innovative alumni outreach programme. Let us know what’s working for you.