In order to further their educational missions, many universities have embraced faculty involvement in ongoing, voluntary or self-motivated learning programs. I have come to witness two outstanding programs at Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia. These programs stand out by having robust involvement from faculty at regional engagement events and as well as on-campus events such as reunion activities. Lifelong engagement programs have proven to be successful and mission affirming in face-to-face environments and now it is time to deliver this offer as an engagement package online.
In order to maintain a lifelong engagement strategy, I believe that academic enrichment programming must be upheld as a crucial component.
Faculty research and the exciting achievements from within the university’s academic cohort make for compelling event discussions, web content and strengthen the school’s brand overall. The incredible academic breakthroughs coming from our university labs are changing the world for the better and beloved faculty can be great ambassadors for the institution as they share their latest discoveries.
BUT ACADEMIC ENRICHMENT, AS PART OF A LIFELONG LEARNING STRATEGY, ONLY REPRESENTS ONE OF THREE POSSIBLE FRAMEWORKS ON WHICH TO BUILD A CONSTITUENT ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM.
Programming that features research might not appeal to alumni that didn’t connect with that part of their educational experience or somehow only connects with current post-graduate endeavors. Research is by its nature very specific, and in turn, each event with academic exploration as the focal point often appeals to a smaller audience. To broaden the appeal of speaker events, we often rely on “State of the University”-type talks from Presidents, Deans or other high level administrators that are popular but costly to plan, in both monetary and human resources, especially if they happen on the road. There are a few ways we can add more breadth to our learning-oriented engagement programming.
Lifelong learning can be represented by both professional development and constituent network advice. By providing access to tangible skills like public speaking, building websites, or using LinkedIn, we can create great professional development programming with practical applications. The sharing of everyday advice between constituents on topics such as fitness, style, cooking, and travel, combined with professional development topics can help us engage a broader population of alumni, parents, students and friends of the university in the community. Professional development and advice-based education helps more people and delivers more value as alumni move forward in their busy lives.
In many respects, the top three lifelong learning themes exist because they are natural topics of conversation at alumni events.
1. ACADEMIC ENRICHMENT
2. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
3. CONSTITUENT NETWORK ADVICE
Universities with effective alumni career services programming help graduates make connections, establish a digital presence on the web and often provides one-on-one counseling. A few universities looking to expand in this kind of programming are Colgate University and my alma mater, the University of Richmond. Here alumni and career services are integrated at the undergraduate level too, in order to connect students with alumni. As alumni help students prepare for the work world and make business connections, they are fostering professional communities that are full of homegrown success stories, which in turn boosts institutional pride and drives future engagement.
One way to deploy a three-themed lifelong learning strategy and simultaneously work towards the giving results we’re looking for might be to infuse career services and constituent engagement together and connect outcomes to regular (annual) university giving.
Movement in this direction, connecting engagement and giving from a departmental standpoint, seem to be part of a new trend. And that infusion makes sense. While marketing our professional development events, we need to promote opportunities to fund internships, for example. Before, during and after every event involving faculty, we need to thoughtfully promote our academic fundraising priorities or the notion of giving. This could be as simple as beverage napkins with the giving website printed on them for in-person events or web advertisements for related content involving faculty or research. We can and should connect our fundraising priorities with the lifelong learning themes. Not only will this strategy help us better determine ROI for engagement programming, but also provide an avenue to create partnerships in university schools and units, helping them reach their engagement goals.
IT’S TIME. AS MUCH AS HALF OF YOUR ENGAGEMENT PROGRAMMING COULD BE DELIVERED THROUGH THE WEB.
Digital programming can save tens of thousands of dollars each year by cutting costs on travel expenses, room rentals and catering, while still delivering on the promise of lifelong learning. Lifelong learning stood up under the three pillars of engagement 1) academic enrichment 2) professional development 3) network advice, provides a framework to create compelling web content. The web delivers the most value possible back to all alumni providing educational content that is accessible and affordable, no matter where they live, or how much time they have.
Up Next on Advancement Live: 4/21 at 1pm, “Alumni Influencers: Digital Engagement Strategies for the 21st Century” featuring Kathy Kale, AVP, Alumni Relations at Santa Clara University.