Alumni Relations News Roundup – Are Alumni-Exclusive MOOCs for you?

Thoughtful Experiment: HarvardX for Alumni Rethinks Engagement in the MOOC Era
In the spring of 2014, Harvard launched HarvardX for Alumni, an initiative to create a unique online experience exclusively for alumni. Almost a year later, leaders from the Harvard Alumni Association took a close look at the successes and challenges of its first iteration.

Engaging nearly 15,000 alumni, the program drew mixed reviews but shows promise, especially as a way to engage local chapters and clubs. In their summary article, the program’s leaders wrote that “twenty-eight Harvard Clubs hosted, or pledged to host, a discussion group on a HarvardX for Alumni topic or segment. A number of Clubs, including Houston, Minnesota, Shanghai, Chicago, and Cape Cod, hosted more than one discussion. Five Clubs also brought in faculty speakers from the program.”

In the fall of 2014, the University of Pennsylvania launched its own alumni-exclusive online course via Coursera. In contrast to Harvard’s program, Penn offered just one course, a modified version of its popular online class “History of the Slave South.” Drawing nearly 700 alumni, the course garnered positive feedback, with over 85% of participants indicating that the course strengthened their connection to the university.

In both cases, one of the best outcomes of the programs seems to be the support it lends to connecting alumni with each other, acting as a vehicle for local alumni groups to gather and engage.

Are alumni-exclusive online courses for you? Before launching a new initiative, answer 3 questions:

1) How does this type of programming support or align with your current strategic goals?
If you can’t come up with a good answer, just don’t go there. Getting distracted by the latest programming idea is a sure way to derail your success.

2) Will this resonate with your alumni?
Hopefully, you have an effective alumni council or advisory body that is informing your programming and engagement methods. Before launching, vet this idea with the appropriate committee or council members and explore the level of interest and commitment. As with any successful venture, you need buy-in from your lead volunteers to champion the program and move it forward.

3) What resources can you deploy toward this effort?
If the program aligns with your goals and has buy-in from your leaders, craft a plan for the program that aligns with your resources, including the staff, funding, skills, and expertise needed to deliver a quality program. Find a champion among your staff team to lead the effort and collaborate with your key partners across campus.

As you move forward, define your objectives, understand how you will measure success, and, like Harvard and Penn, take time to evaluate your progress.

Social Media + Analytics for Alumni Engagement
The New York Times recently profiled EverTrue and Graduway, two start-ups that use social media analytics to help colleges and universities discern the giving preferences and likelihood of their alumni. While the approaches may be controversial, some institutions are jumping on board. In a related blog post, the Times also featured the increased use of LinkedIn’s University Pages to drive alumni career services.

Alumni Give Nearly $10 Billion in FY 2014
Alumni made 26% of all contributions to colleges and universities in FY2014, according to the latest Voluntary Support of Education Survey. With an increase of nearly 10% since 2013, alumni were the second largest source of contributions, just behind foundations, which gave 30%.

Image: Harvard Alumni Association website.

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