Alumni

After expansion, Drew University plans nonacademic cuts

Under pressure to close funding and enrollment gaps, a small, private liberal arts institution in New Jersey expands academic offerings, then proposes cutting noninstructional budgets. Will Drew's strategy work?

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Report examines college graduates' employment experiences in years after graduation, recession

Eighty percent of 2008 graduates found employment in the four years after their graduation, despite entering the work force as the recession tightened its grip on the country, a report shows.

Gallup surveys graduates to gauge whether and why college is good for well-being

Gallup rolls out the results of an attempt to measure what in college makes for a great life and a great job -- and finds small numbers of graduates hitting both marks.

University presidents work to increase recognizability with alumni

Despite social media and alumni magazine profiles, most college alumni don’t know the president of their alma mater. Does that matter?

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Penn State report says board didn't ask tough questions of administrators

Penn State report blames board members for not asking tough questions of administrators, raising the question: Does a successful president get too much deference?

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Goddard College sends cease-and-desist notice to alumni

In a cease-and-desist letter, the board threatens legal action if the alumni group continues to publish “misleading or defamatory statements” about the college.

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Creating COVID-safe fall weekends for families and alumni

To guard against COVID-19, many campuses are creating virtual, hybrid or outdoor programs for visiting families and alumni.

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Lee alumni say handbook changes target LGBTQIA+ students

The student handbook now excludes “gender” and “gender identity” from its antidiscrimination policy. “Cross-dressing” on campus and “same-sex sexual behavior” are banned as well.

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We should encourage alumni to return to college for professional development courses on anti-racism (opinion)

“My alma mater? All they do is ask me for money.” It’s a refrain that my friends who work in alumni affairs offices hear regularly.

This year, my alumni office’s outreach focused people’s attention on addressing systemic racism. This has led me to wonder: Is anti-racism the great work that alumni offices should be called upon to do in this century?

Fortunately, many alumni offices have started to think of themselves as crucial in re-skilling a workforce of graduates who never had world-class DEI faculty or a student culture that overtly emphasized inclusion. I’m not as worried about current students in 2021 getting the message that addressing racism requires urgent action. But what about the students from 1971?

About two-thirds of Americans -- 216 million or so -- are older than 25. Just over a third of them, or around 71 million American adults, have at least one college degree. On top of that, an estimated 36 million additional adults have at least started a degree program.

Despite any best intentions, our country can’t count solely on book groups, social media platforms, or consultants to drag would-be allies into an anti-racist awakening. I’m also starting to suspect that, as things now stand, neither academe nor private industry will be heralded in history for spawning racial harmony in America. Who among us see anti-racism professional development as a top benefit for alums in their magazines or annual-fund appeals -- alongside season ticket privileges, access to special events, or membership in local chapters?

So what about sending those 71 million adults back to school? Is it time for a GI Bill for the college-educated-but-morally-wounded veterans of systemic racism in the country? A white accountability group for the masses?

It’s a fine place to start, and alumni offices of their alma maters are well positioned to champion this work. Why? Because:

  • They sit on a lot of contact information for their alumni and are really good at emailing them.
  • They are, for the most part, neither profit-driven nor political.
  • They are arms of the nation’s most trusted educational content providers.

But why on earth would millions of privileged, college-educated, largely white Americans lift a finger to connect on Zoom or IRL for professional development around anti-racism issues with their fellow alums? Let’s face it: they’ll need incentives beyond the moral call of duty. Here are some possible carrots:

  • The programs could be free. The colleges themselves (or U.S. Department of Education grants) will underwrite annual anti-racist programs -- in concert with peer institutions, if necessary.
  • The programs could spotlight and celebrate the good work that many alumni are already doing, creating organic PR for many working professionals or nonprofits they lead.
  • The programs could provide job benefits: the certificate granted for completion of the course will be a useful badge for career-advancement purposes.
  • The college could offer special access to its president, who will attend the (virtual or real-time) program.
  • The alma mater could offer preference in season-ticket ordering or seating for [fill in the college team] for those alumni who earn a certificate in the anti-racism program.
  • The programs could have sentimental appeal: come back and stay in your dorm room again while you’re enrolled. Bring your kids this time.

A Macro-Level Compounding Impact

I’m inspired by what I’ve seen from higher education institutions large and small, both elite and ordinary, since the murder of George Floyd in May:

  • A Google search reveals 190 colleges in the United States have published statements on racism; hosted workshops, webinars, or roundtables; or bundled university resources on anti-racism on their websites for alumni to access and use.
  • Offices of minority education and diversity officers have launched “racial equity funds” to award grants to faculty and students who want to carve out time to address this work;
  • Where leadership has neglected a duty to connect alumni to this work, petitions from alumni (and even lawsuits) have made some headway in budging reluctant presidents into action.

Like everything else that happened in 2020, some of this movement was unthinkable a year ago. And it’s only a start. Colleges and universities have not yet taken a wholesale, macro-level approach to cultivating anti-racist work among college-educated Americans.

What’s in it for the institutions? Putting the moral positioning aside, it might make good business sense. With about 90 percent of college graduates living in urban counties and a disappearing middle-class, there’s plenty of improvement to be done in town/gown relationships. A high-visibility curriculum for a major institution’s alumni base in its home city won’t only yield nice press clips; it might also make everyone, including the college itself, better neighbors.

Other less tangible benefits could accrue to those institutions who take on the challenge. US News and World Report currently takes alumni giving into account in its formula for rankings. What if it weighted alumni professional development in anti-racism in that formula, too?

Granted, many alumni offices today aren’t poised to implement and execute such a programmatic pivot. They’re burdened by slim budgets, the traditional demands for a return on investment from institutional leaders, pet programs of provosts and boards, or a deeply ingrained reputation for soliciting donations every chance they get.

Cautionary tales are emerging, too. Big bets on anti-racism efforts of any kind may seem daunting for leaders wary of making headline news in front of wealthy donors.

But there’s never been a better time to undertake such work: virtual learning pilots can be piecemeal, even volunteer-led, and offer better intel on the appetite or interests among an alumni body for such work. Many universities are already well-poised, with certification programs on inclusion (e.g., University of California, Irvine) and short-courses (e.g., Northwestern University) already running and open to alums.

What would success look like? Marketers are often happy with a 2 percent conversion rate -- in other words, 2 percent of warm leads taking advantage of a free benefit or program, on a good day.

For 71 million or more Americans targeted by an alma mater (or two), that might mean at least 1.42 million Americans would be better educated on anti-racism work in the coming year. Begin compounding that number, year over year, with poster child alums making the case to their peers about the importance, relevance and usefulness of doing this work. That might very well start looking like progress.

Think about it. Can we conceive of a time when our graduates might casually say to their neighbors: “My alma mater? All they do is teach me”?

Joe Walsh is a higher education professional in Boston.

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Columbia U Revised Statement in Response to Tree of Life Shooting

Columbia University revised its statement in response to the Saturday shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people after an alumnus pointed out the absence of “Jews” or “anti-Semitism” in the university's statement.

The original statement, published in the Jewish Journal, included mentions of faith and identity but did not mention Jews, Judaism or anti-Semitism specifically.

“We are deeply saddened by the senseless violence at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning. Violence in our nation’s houses of worship is an affront to the freedoms our community holds dear. We stand strongly against these efforts to create fear and terror,” the original statement read. “For some in our community, this is a particularly frightening time as we have seen a growing number of highly visible attacks directed at faith and identity -- on worshippers and people of faith as they go through their daily lives, on groups gathered to celebrate an LGBT Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, on civil rights and anti-racist protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, and in so many other places, as occurred in last Wednesday’s shooting of two African-American shoppers in Kentucky.”

Zachary Neugut, a Columbia University alumnus, criticized the statement on Twitter on Sunday evening.

“Classic @Columbia to send an email about the #TreeOfLifeSynagogue shooting and mention anti-LGBT and anti-black hatred but not anti-Semitism,” he tweeted. “The world has gone mad, I'm embarrassed today to call myself an alumnus & regret having donated to @CC_Columbia this year. #Columbia”

Neugut tweeted on Monday that the university had reached out to apologize to him and revised their statement.

Below is the university’s revised statement.

“We are deeply saddened by the horrific antisemitic attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday morning. Violence in our nation’s houses of worship is an affront to the freedoms our community holds dear. We stand strongly against yesterday’s violent attack on the Jewish community and against other efforts to create fear and terror.

“For some in our community, this is a particularly frightening time as we have seen a growing number of highly visible attacks directed at faith and identity -- on worshippers and people of faith as they go through their daily lives, on groups gathered to celebrate an LGBT Latin night at Pulse Nightclub, on civil rights and anti-racist protesters in the streets of Charlottesville, and in so many other places, as occurred in last Wednesday's shooting of two African-American shoppers in Kentucky. Please know that you are not alone, and that you are a part of this community founded on the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”

Columbia University declined to comment on the record about the change.

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