Many articles in recent months have asked ‘What is the future of business education?’, but perhaps they should ask ‘Who is the future of business education?’ The new Alumni Matters report from CarringtonCrisp and EFMD Global provides some pointers.
Engagement with alumni is not as strong as it might be, only 17% of the respondents to the Alumni Matters study definitely agreed that they are engaged with their business school. Only 14% definitely agreed that they are being engaged by their business school in thinking about its future.
Yet many of those articles about the future of business education highlight the growing importance of upskilling and reskilling, the lifelong learning agenda for alumni. Historically, many business schools have focused their engagement efforts on new prospective students, but the future is likely to involve driving more repeat business with alumni. Repeat business tends to be cheaper to acquire than new business, but relies on customer satisfaction with previous purchases and brand loyalty, all of which will be enhanced through better engagement.
In a separate study, an employer told CarringtonCrisp, “We notice people no longer see jobs as careers – they’ll stay for shorter periods of time than the previous generation did. Their desire for learning goes beyond the role they’re in, it’s about the long-term view of what they’re interested in. And we’re seeing more and more boomerang employees.”
For business schools, it’s not the boomerang employee that is most important, but the boomerang learner. Get the engagement right, build the brand loyalty and there is a potential stream of learners/alumni who will keep returning to a school throughout a career which may stretch into their 70s.
Just over half (54%) the alumni responding to the Alumni Matters study indicated that the alumni experience could be improved by offering more opportunities for further learning, putting it just behind improved networking. Of course, alumni have a choice about future learning and they may not always come back to their old school, but they are more likely to if the student and alumni experience are of high quality.
There’s also a place for better communication. Almost two-thirds (64%) of those taking part in the Alumni Matters survey indicated that they are unaware of what is currently available to continue their learning at their former school.
There are many reasons to engage alumni, including growing admissions, building corporate links or fundraising. However, perhaps most important in the next few years will be engaging alumni in a thriving learning community that offers informal peer-to-peer learning through networking, mentoring programmes and certificates, diplomas, microcredentials, digital badges, degrees and more to build the future of the business school.