Maybe absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, but online does

16 February 2024

Andrew Crisp considers how COVID and the online response may have strengthened alumni relationships for recent graduates

For alumni, distance will always be a factor.  Upon graduation, the majority of alumni will tend to move away from the location of their business school, especially as the number of international students has grown in recent years.  However, there is also the distance of time to consider and this year’s Alumni Matters report suggests that newer alumni are very much more engaged with their business school than those of earlier generations.

Perhaps though it isn’t distance that leads to a disconnect. In 2023 and the two previous years, many of those who had studied through COVID began to graduate.  Many of these graduates will have spent some or all of their time studying online, and during the same period, many business schools will have started to run alumni events online.  Opportunities for alumni to reengage with their business school multiplied far beyond previous times when engagement would usually mean travelling across the globe to an event which might only take place once a year.

For those forced to engage online for their studies there has been a familiarity with using digital tools to connect; finding the same tools available for alumni seeking to network has made it easy to maintain and build relationships.  With alumni relationships there also isn’t the online fatigue of regular lessons and seminars that may have been part of the study experience, instead occasional opportunities are usual.

Among the 1652 alumni responding to this year’s Alumni Matters study, 23% of the respondents graduated in the past three years.  Across the total sample, seven out of ten agree that the school cares about its alumni and 76% that their school keeps them informed about alumni and school activities and news.

However, it is recent alumni who appear to have the strongest relationships with their former school.  More than four in ten (44%) of recent alumni definitely agree that they are positive towards their business school compared with 38% in the total sample.  Almost half of the alumni (49%) definitely agree they are proud to be associated with their business school compared to 43% in their total sample, and 36% are connected to their school or part of the alumni community compared with 30% and 31% respectively. 

The pattern that emerges in the data may simply be down to younger alumni being more recently connected with their school than older alumni.  Whatever the reason, it appears that the experience of the pandemic has had few, if any, negative impacts on alumni relationships with their school and for some it has strengthened ties.

The benefits that online has brought don’t mean alumni don’t want face-to-face connections with their business school, rather that they are open to provision delivered online.  With the growth of lifelong learning, online delivery is increasingly common as alumni seek to maintain their career advancement, refreshing and adding skills to support their development, offering another option for schools to foster relationships through technology.

Subscribe to our newsletter