It is more important than ever for alumni to be involved with their alma maters. Colleges across the country are rushing to engage with notable alumni—stepping up their alumni outreach efforts to earn more donations and showcase their former students’ success. Simply emailing alumni isn’t enough to keep your college front-of-mind for former students. In today’s world, it’s necessary to break out the big guns to keep up with alumni engagement best practices and stand out from other educational facilities.
One practice that some colleges are turning to (or are stepping up) so they can increase alumni engagement is alumni trustee voting. Why is alumni trustee voting important? How can you ensure fair voting? How does trustee voting help fulfill the purpose of alumni associations?
The Importance of Alumni Trustee Voting
According to a survey cited by Inside Higher Ed, “More than 40 percent of trustees are now very concerned about the future of higher education, up 14 points from last year.” This survey, it should be noted, was conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak started causing the closures of college campuses in early 2020. Now, with so many campuses having been forced to switch to online learning to continue delivering the resources students need, it is almost certain that even more campuses (and their trustee boards) have cause for concern.
You might be wondering what the impact of adding former alumni to your college’s board of trustees would be. Alumni outreach programs have long been a staple of collegiate fundraising—helping get alumni active in the college’s affairs and raising awareness of the positive impact the college has on students and the community. While outreach programs that aid in job placement can be incredibly beneficial for students, giving alums the chance to participate in the governance of the school can help take ongoing awareness and support to a whole new level.
Alumni who are on the board of trustees can provide a few key benefits for a higher education facility:
- Providing Fresh Perspectives. As former students, alums often have a perspective that long-sitting board members might lack. This can be crucial for gaining insights into how college programs might be improved to attract new students (and thus generate revenue).
- Motivating Students to Achieve Excellence. Alumni trustee voting programs can be a huge opportunity for students (especially those in business-relevant degree programs) to buff up their résumé. Additionally, some students may appreciate the chance to make their mark on the school’s history and help shape their alma mater’s future. Either way, opening up positions on the board of trustees to alumni can help motivate students to do their best to stand out so they can earn a spot.
- Preparing Elected Alums for Future Board Positions. The obligations placed on alumni trustees are, in most cases, fairly light. For example, Stanford University’s Board of Trustees meets five times a year, with each meeting lasting around three days. This part-time participation in organizational management could provide alums the experience they need to assume leadership roles in other organizations without being an overwhelming burden on graduates looking to launch their careers.
- Raising Awareness of the College’s Needs. It’s all too easy for those not directly involved in the college’s management to underestimate the challenges the college faces—even former students may not fully appreciate the issues involved. Having former students on the Board who can bring issues and concerns to their extended network of classmates, friends, and potential professional connections help to raise awareness of the college’s needs. This, in turn, can make an enormous difference in the effectiveness of alumni outreach efforts.
How COVID-19 Is Changing College
It’s difficult to quantify just how much of an impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on colleges so far (and will continue to have in 2021). The shuttering of many campuses and the departure of numerous students (especially international or out-of-state students who may not return next semester) has created enormous disruptions to college finances.
In one article, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) stated that:
“In any other industry, this kind of pressure leads to resource sharing, more innovative business models, and expanded and more efficient methods of delivering goods and services. If revenues cannot continue to rise, operating costs must come down and with them the price to students and taxpayers.
Higher education has always operated differently… In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, higher education leaders have nowhere to turn except the federal government, and they know it.”
With a recession created by the pandemic looming, many prospective students may put off attending college, or opt for a public college over a private college. According to statistics from CollegeData, in 2019, the average cost of private colleges was $53,980, while public colleges cost $26,590.
If costs cannot come down to a point where the majority of post-recession students can afford it, colleges will have to compete even harder for limited resources (such as alumni donation dollars and new students who can afford the cost of higher education).
Outreach programs, particularly ones aimed at alumni, can help colleges build the recognition they need to stand out and acquire more resources.
Using Online Voting for Trustee Positions
One of the major challenges in holding a vote for board positions right now is that holding in-person meetings is strongly discouraged because of the risk of spreading COVID-19. So, it may be difficult to ensure that every member of the Board of Trustees has an equal chance to vote for alumni trustees.
One simple solution to this challenge is to use an online voting tool to collect votes. Voting online allows trustees to vote at their leisure (meaning they can take the time they need to research candidates and come to the best possible decision). However, it’s important to use the right online voting tool to maintain impartiality, fairness, and integrity.
Simply emailing trustees a shortlist of notable alumni and asking each one to pick a candidate may not produce clear results. It also leaves open a possibility of vote results being skewed unintentionally because of miscounts or missed emails.
Using an online survey tool to collect virtual ballots helps to improve the trustee voting process—making it more accurate and reliable. For example, using a virtual ballot, you could track the total number of ballots sent, responses received, and the total votes for each candidate with ease.
This could help to anonymize the responses of each voter, provide an unbiased tally of votes, and verify that each trustee was provided a fair opportunity to vote for their preferred alumnus. This preserves the integrity of the process and helps to prevent potential issues down the line.