What is alumni?
What is ‘Alumni’, in the context of academia? It is the plural term for the people who attended a university or similar place of education. Strictly speaking, the term can apply to anybody who attended the school, but it’s more commonly used to mean people who graduated.
There’s a good reason for that. The word bears a philosophical etymology, coming from the Latin word ‘alere’, meaning ‘nourish’. So, while an alum may not have completed their studies with an establishment, it seems arguably more fitting to leave the term of ‘one who has been nourished’ to those who completed their education.
If you describe yourself as an alum of a college or university, it’s likely that will be taken to mean you completed your studies and have a qualification to show for it.
Let’s dig down further to discover: what does alumni mean, and why are alumni important to a university?
Why are alumni important to a university?
If university is a process, then alumni are the end product. Being an alumni carries a lot of significance, and it’s ideally a mark of honour.
After all the expensive and time-consuming studies you chose to pursue, you have a title to give yourself alongside your diploma.
Being an alum isn’t just significant to the individual, though. A university’s alumni are vital to it in many ways.
What does alumni mean?
We’ve just looked at the literal meaning of alumni, but there’s more to being an alum than just having completed one’s studies.
People looking to undertake higher education have an incredibly wide range of choices. Even discounting vocational-based studies, the sheer number of institutions across the UK, the U.S., and many other nations gives many prospective students a literal world of choice.
It means picking one place of study above all other options available instils a significance in the choice. Being an alum means you chose your place and stayed there, granting it a similar importance to choosing a sports team.
By opting to study with your university, students are giving you their support and trusting you to give them the education they need to continue on the paths of their careers or interests in life. This is a choice that, hopefully, they’ll be proud of and feel that they represent.
In this way, alumni are more than just the people who received an education and moved on. Instead, they’re the people who chose a place of education and owe their qualification to a faculty there. The educators they encounter during their time at university have the capacity to shape the rest of that person’s career and their life, so being an alum can represent the most influential choice they ever made for their learning.
How is ‘alumni’ different to ‘graduate’?
Technically speaking, you can be an alum without graduating, though as we discussed earlier it’s more common for the words to be used synonymously.
However, an important difference between the two is the prestige associated with alumni specifically.
‘Graduates’ can come from any form of learning and training, and you can technically graduate from a three-day course in Photoshop as much as you can a three-year business degree at Harvard.
In the former example, you wouldn’t call yourself an alum—it’s a term reserved for more formal and in-depth education. While graduating is still a huge achievement in many different contexts, being part of a collective alumni is a badge of honour that attaches you to a specific year of graduates completing their courses.
For universities, this sense of pride and belonging can be amplified by taking pride in your alumni and recognising their accomplishments in kind.
Why are alumni important?
Alumni are important to a university because they’re proof. They show that the university is producing educated individuals who leave with qualifications, career options, and a greater sense of individuality.
Universities also produce huge numbers of alumni year after year, and these graduates provide fresh talent to the job market for companies who are looking to take on newly-qualified individuals that they can teach and mould into the roles they want.
Alumni keep the job market fuelled in this way, but they also act as sponsors and customers of the universities they attend. Much like a business thrives on happy customers, a university depends on successful alumni. They’re individuals that the university may want to shout about and bring back to speak to undergraduates as a role model.
The success of an individual in their chosen field speaks to the quality of their training and education received during their course. Satisfied and well-educated alumni are essentially a universities best proof of its efficacy and value for money.
Content alumni can be sources of future fundraising for a university, and word-of-mouth from alumni who recommend their alma mater is an invaluable source of continuous marketing.
Additionally, alumni are your very best source of research and opinions on how the university conducts various roles. After all, these are the people who have spend three, four, and more years studying at the institution, living in student halls, interacting with staff, and getting to know other students alongside them.
Alumni can give a university informed feedback of their time and perhaps even have a hand in shaping things in the future; whilst there are various alumni engagement events that can help alumni keep a bond.
Giving alumni the chance to help shape a university’s processes could improve:
Alumni come to a university with varying levels of pre-existing education. Some will already have a strong grasp of the subject they’ve come to study—and to some degree this will always be true in order for the students to qualify for the course—but others may not be quite so advanced as their peers.
Far from being an obstacle to research, this is actually perfect for the university as it will give them a healthy range of opinions when it comes to the quality and depth of the education they received. More advanced students may feel that their lecturer didn’t pitch high enough; others may feel that they needed more of a leg up with heavier concepts and felt that they fell behind somewhat.
It’s important the universities aim their education right to follow the growth of their students from first year through to last.
Most first-year students live in university halls, due to a range of factors including the ease of accessing them, the ‘soft’ introduction to living away from home and handling expenses, and the fact that many students don’t yet know anybody in their place of study and so have nobody to reliably share private rented accommodation with.
While university-owned dormitories are useful for many students, they also place another level of onus on the university itself separate from education. They introduce safeguarding and security responsibilities, with residential assistants needed around the clock to help students and guide them in various matters from financial to clerical.
The quality and suitability of these living spaces is vital to get right, especially for first-year students. For many, this will be the first time living ‘alone’, and halls need to strike a balance between providing a scaffolded living experience while giving students the appropriate degree of freedom and autonomy.
Bad living conditions have the capacity to overshadow everything else happening in a student’s time at a university, and they can be the difference between a happy, relaxed time making new friends, and a miserable time trying to outlast the semester.
Alumni can give the best feedback regarding these living spaces, since they not only spend the most time in them day and night, but they also pay for the privilege of staying there—so they won’t sugar coat the more lacking aspects that they feel didn’t reflect value for money.
Value is a tough thing for a university to balance since there is so much individual perception involved. Much like getting the level of education right, getting the value for money right for the students paying to study is a hard thing.
However, having an open dialogue with alumni can do a lot to help on this front. Attending university is one of the most expensive choices students will make for their education, so for a university to understand exactly how their students can graduate feeling like they made the right choice is a huge strength.
Of course, value encompasses everything during a student’s time at university: not just education, but accommodation, facilities, convenience, support, and much more than encompasses the several years that a person will spend studying.
All of these and more boil down to the kind of reputation that the university will enjoy as its alumni go out and share their experiences.
Earning a good reputation also allows a university to stand on its own merits, rather than be judged for the city or town in which it’s located. This can lead some universities to be seen as ‘lesser’ due to a culture of elitism surrounding a small, specific group of UK institutions.
Having alumni that are happy to defend their choice of university because of the education they received and the value of their time there is the best way to stop a university being dismissed based purely on where it is located.
Why is being an alum important?
Being part of an alumni group is important because alumni all share something in common: the pursuit of higher education.
By attending a university and getting to know fellow students, alumni are in the prime position to access a network of educated, connected people who could support them in their work, introduce them to individuals and companies, and much more.
Alumni networks aren’t a standard procedure for all universities, but their value for anybody graduating from a university are undeniable. After all, why spend so much money and time pursuing a higher education over several years to throw away the connections you made in that time?
Unlike situations in which you need to attend—like school—becoming an alum is the result of a choice to pursue higher education and persisting with that choice through to completion. It proves dedication to education and your chosen craft, and it’s not an easy path.
Providing an alumni engagement network for your alumni via an alumni management platform and helping them to make the most out of it ensures that they can take informed and effective next steps in their lives and careers.
Aluminate for alumni
Our company was born from a strong and passionate belief that the connections made in higher education mustn’t go to waste. Rather than lose them when your email account is shut down after graduating, keep them strong and up-to-date! Aluminate for Education by Aluminati does just that, allowing you to hold on to the connections you built and turn them into a strong professional, online community of fellow alumni.
To find out more about our products and services, contact us today.