Published on Sept. 29, 2022, at 4: 05 p.m.
by Annabelle Blomeley.
Each year, more than 61,000 eager students face Harvard’s notoriously low acceptance rates in hope of securing just one of the 2,000 spots. Despite its low acceptance rate, tens of thousands of people desire a degree from Harvard University. While Harvard’s notoriety for a great education and campus culture are selling points, the people who sell these points to begin with are those who experienced them: the alumni.
Universities, colleges and other educational institutions have been selling the alumni experience since the late 1800s. In 1840, as the oldest college in the United States, Harvard University established its official alumni association to inform alumni and create community among graduates. In 1898, it began publishing the Harvard Bulletin, a dedicated alumni magazine that’s now called Harvard Magazine, to entice alumni to donate and keep them in the loop of campus happenings.
Today, it’s hard to find a university alumni association that doesn’t have an alumni magazine in some capacity. For some, the alumni magazine is a member benefit of joining the association; for others, it’s sent to everyone with a degree from the university. With the ever-changing digital world, many alumni magazines also choose to put their content on their websites for everyone to read.
Calvin Brown, the director of alumni affairs at The University of Alabama, said Alabama Alumni Magazine is “the most effective piece of communication” the alumni association sends out annually.
“I think the reason [Alabama Alumni Magazine] started and then remained so important is such that our alumni want to remain attached and engaged to the school,” Brown said. “Our alumni are all over the world, and some of them can’t get back to campus. So, for them to be able to receive a magazine four times a year that keeps them up to date on what’s taking place, it’s very powerful.”
Brown, who is also a member of the Council of Alumni Association Executives, said the organization has quoted research that indicated that the alumni magazine is one of the few hard-copy magazines that young people are interested in.
“They want it on their coffee table, and when their friends come over, they’re proud to have that in their hands,” Brown said.
In fact, according to the CASE Alumni Magazine Readership Survey, of the 91,000 alumni surveyed across 176 institutions, more than 80% claim to read their alumni magazine in its entirety.
Rhonda Crim, director of alumni publications for The University of Alabama National Alumni Association and editor of Alabama Alumni Magazine, said the role of the alumni magazine is to support the promises that the university makes to prospective students and graduates.
On the one hand, Crim said the alumni magazine is used to create community, keep alumni up to date with their alma mater and give thanks to donors. Receiving an alumni magazine is typically an expectation of alumni when they graduate, she noted.
“For people who want to support and who have the ability to support the university, it can be very meaningful for them to be acknowledged,” Crim said. “It’s a personal touch for someone. … Up front it is a reminder to a person that they belong to our tribe, that they’re part of the family.”
On the other hand, Crim said the alumni magazine works to showcase the greatest advertising and public relations an institution can have — alumni — who have experienced their alma mater and, hopefully, gained valuable opportunities because of it. She said alumni are personal testaments that their alma mater has the educational standard and campus culture prospective students are looking for.
“For us, it’s about sustaining a person’s idea that they made the right decision when they chose to attend Alabama,” Crim said. “It’s really the sister of admissions and enrollment in that our prospective students and parents are looking to those outcomes over on the alumni side to say, ‘Could that be my son or daughter there? Do they have a network strong enough to support my child getting a job?’ Or as a prospective student, they’re thinking ‘Am I going to be a success? Am I going to fit in all of that?’”
Svati K. Narula, the digital editor of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine and a Dartmouth College alumna, is a testament to how the alumni magazine influences prospective students. Narula said she became interested in attending Dartmouth when she saw its alumni magazine sitting on the table at her uncle’s house. When she finally did attend Dartmouth after high school, she worked for the alumni magazine as an intern and was later hired full-time.
“I think [the magazine] ultimately advances the goals of the college by letting people know that all of these really cool people have these really amazing careers, and what they all have in common is Dartmouth,” Narula said.
Narula said that showing the broad scope of possibilities after getting your degree helps prospective students make decisions about where to go to school.
“We want to make sure that they enjoy reading it, and it’s not a chore,” Narula said. “We don’t want people reading our stories and rolling their eyes, which I think happens all too often with more standard communications.”
According to Volt, it can be anywhere from five to 25 times more costly to create a new relationship than it is to maintain a preexisting one. Alumni associations deal with almost entirely preexisting relationships through their alumni, so advertising and public relations strategies must get creative.
Cait Shields, the managing editor of The Association of Former Students of Texas A&M University’s Texas Aggie Magazine, said having a push communication like a magazine allows alumni associations to tell alum’s stories while also sharing critical association information.
“In a world where we see so many tweets, so many emails, it’s a medium that we feel very strongly brings a lot of value to our organization,” Shields said.
For many, the alumni magazine is about adding a personal touch to communication methods between alumni associations and alumni.
Dorothy Guerrero is the vice president of communications and editor-in-chief of The Alcalde, the official alumni magazine of the Texas Exes, The University of Texas at Austin’s alumni association, since 1913. The Alcalde publishes six times a year, and it’s sent to nearly 110,000 alumni.
“At the alumni organization, we see The Alcalde as our biggest platform,” Guerrero said. “It’s our megaphone to the alumni and the best way to tell stories that illustrate the greatness of The University of Texas and Longhorns around the world. So, it’s an investment for us.”
Guerrero said that while The Alcalde provides a personal touch to alumni from the Texas Exes, it doesn’t go as far as to be hyper-personalized. The content is relevant to any UT alumni without having each story be something that every person would normally pick up and read.
While some may think print media is a dying art, the alumni magazine has shown time and time again that telling alumni stories and creating community might go further than an email ever will.