Strategic Plan III

Alumni—“Descending the Old Stone Steps….”

Our students’ educational experiences on campus must be seamlessly connected with where they go and what they do after graduation. While we recognize the intrinsic value of their four years at the college, our mission is to prepare young people for citizenship, civic engagement and careers thereafter. Key dimensions of our educational program, such as our emphasis on lifelong learning, are designed with this in mind. Graduates’ achievements and activities not only fulfill the college’s mission but also powerfully validate our distinctive approach to the liberal arts and the worth of a Dickinson degree. 

Moreover, Dickinson’s alumni are an underutilized resource for both our current undergraduates and the college as a whole. Alumni have the ability to serve as mentors for our students and to assist them through active networking to find internships and job placement. Alumni achievements of all sorts—personal, in career and in community—can enhance the college’s reputation and serve as vehicles for increasing Dickinson’s visibility. Our alumni, in this regard, are embodiments of the Dickinson narrative. Finally, alumni are the primary source of philanthropy for institutions like Dickinson. 

SP III identifies stronger relationships with alumni and more effective tapping of alumni resources as critical to our future. We need to network with ever wider circles of alumni, seeking their assistance in career placement, recruitment and other volunteer work for Dickinson. We need to better communicate the accomplishments of our graduates. Moreover, we need to enhance alumni philanthropy for the college, creating a more vibrant “culture of giving.” It is in this arena—giving, especially as reflected in endowment—that Dickinson lags most painfully behind many of our peer and all of our aspirant institutions.

Strategic Goal A:  Successful transition of students from their undergraduate work to advanced study and career placement is a key element in the relationship between Dickinson and its alumni. We need to ensure that we offer comprehensive and effective support for students' post-graduate plans and aspirations—both for advanced study and for career. Our academic and student life programs center on the development of a 21st-century skill set that serves our graduates well in this regard, but we must also provide targeted support programs.  

Objective 1.  We need to integrate the work of the Advising Office, Career Center and faculty into a seamless network able to inform and guide students on how to plan for the future and build educational programs that support their aspirations and placement. We should determine whether our current division of responsibilities is the best approach and discuss how these offices integrate their activities. Whatever specific organization we adopt, a unified and coordinated effort should be our goal.

Objective 2. As our student body becomes more diverse and as we emphasize diversity as a distinguishing characteristic of the college, we need to assess how well we serve students of color and international students with graduate school and career advising.

Objective 3.   Most alumni (55-60 percent) enroll in graduate school within five years of graduation. Given the importance of advanced study, we need to enhance our already substantial efforts to provide experiences and support that guarantee acceptance and success in high-quality graduate programs. Key steps include:

  1. The college needs to deepen its current emphasis on active and applied learning with demonstrable outcomes such as research projects, performance and studio opportunities, internships and experiential learning including volunteerism and service learning. Such activities are valuable as important credentials for admission to graduate work and as preparation for graduate study. Many of these opportunities will be rooted in academic departments/programs, but they must be a key characteristic of student life as well.
  2. Advising and the Career Center must work with departments to ensure the availability of information to students. We should ask: What programs do departments currently conduct? Should there be a designated “placement officer” in departments? What possibilities are there for peer advising? Do department Web pages address graduate study? Coordinated workshops and information sessions with faculty must be scheduled. We have considerable information about graduate placement for students, but much of it remains anecdotal and unsystematic. We need to do a better job of tracking graduate study.
  3. Dickinson has an active program for securing fellowships that support graduate study such as Fulbright, Goldwater, Truman and Udall Scholarships. We have improved our advising system in this area and moved toward critically important practices such as identifying candidates early. The result has been considerable success, especially with Fulbrights, but we can do much better.
  4. As one special dimension of its work to prepare students for further study, the college has developed a network of special articulation agreements with excellent graduate schools, both nationally and internationally, in a range of fields. The college’s connections through articulation agreements with graduate and professional schools help students identify possibilities, can facilitate entrance to competitive programs and can allow for a program that closely integrates undergraduate and graduate study, sometimes saving the student a year or more of formal study. We need to continue to grow this network of agreements.

Objective 4. Career placement for our graduates is about one-fourth in business, one-fourth in education and much of the remainder in government, other non-profit and health sectors. Education, non-profit and government are rising destinations in line with national trends. Growth fields nationally include the government (especially security), sustainability (“green jobs”) and health care (nursing and allied-health professions). Our current trend, again in line with national statistics, is for more students to postpone job search until well after graduation. For Dickinson graduates, service and personal development frequently figure as the primary considerations in career rather than salary. These trends all speak to a strong alignment between our academic programs and graduate choice/emerging opportunities. Nonetheless, developing strong support to graduates in career placement—initially and thereafter—is of utmost importance to the college. We suggest the following steps to enhance our current efforts:

  1. As with graduate placement, we need the best available information on alumni career activity. An initial review of available data suggests an approximately 40 percent correlation rate between undergraduate majors and career paths during alums’ early careers. It appears that over time the correlation gets weaker as alumni gain experience and practice their liberal-arts skills in new settings. We need a more complete data collection strategy (to include surveys, individual contacts and social networking reports) and further analyses of these patterns to help us be more specific about successful outcomes, thus arming us to help students identify their best possible options.
  2. Alumni have a particularly important role to play in career placement. We must expand programs such as Dickinson Works that take best advantage of their capability to mentor and place graduates in internships and careers thereafter. Given shifts in the national economy and our recruitment geography, the college should cultivate connections to employers in regions projected for economic growth. International students who return to their home countries are an obvious potential resource for graduates with a global career focus.

Strategic Goal B:  Dickinson’s future will in significant part be determined by the quality of our connections to our alumni—they are a key asset to our value as a college. Yet, despite recent strides, we continue to lag behind peers. In order to meet this concern we need to launch an initiative to intensify our alumni relations program. Key elements of such an initiative include: 

Objective 1.  Expand Channels of Engagement. Develop and implement initiatives that connect, engage and inform as many alumni as possible about the college and how association with it adds value. We need to expand programming in areas including affiliations beyond class year by age and life stages; educational opportunities; alumni travel; use of Web and technology to bring on-campus educational programs to homes and businesses; and for the undergraduate population. We must maintain a strong presence in Tier I clubs (regions where 1,000 or more alumni reside; 67 percent of alumni live within this tier), while moderating staff commitment to regions with fewer alumni. The intent of realigning programs is to strengthen bonds, increase involvement in the college and add value to the Dickinson network. 

Objective 2.  Facilitate Connections in and among alumni and with the college. Expand and manage the model of “giving back” beyond financial support to a global alumni network of volunteers. Enhance and expand on campus alumni activities and use technology to expand access to the Career Center and the academic community. 

Objective 3. Celebrate and Honor Our Constituents. Showcase the personal and professional successes of alumni and honor and recognize outstanding service to the college and beyond, thus making alumni activities and achievements more visible. Such efforts should, for example, include exploration of opportunities for academic departments to profile accomplishments of alumni on their web pages. 

Objective 4. Better, technologically-informed communication with the college and among alumni. We must inform and educate alumni and parents about the college through multiple channels (print, Web, social media and events). We envision and will implement new steps reflecting the rapid evolution of technology-driven social networking to foster the alumni online community and to make alumni events more visible on the college Web site. 

Objective 5. Data collection and assessment. Working with advancement colleagues and advancement services, we will establish a task force to collectively determine key metrics to measure our progress. Survey annually alumni entering into their 10th, 25th and 50th reunions for their reflections upon the Dickinson experience and the value it has brought to their lives and conduct regular surveys of community and civic engagement.

Objective 6. Connection between the college and its alumni is not something easily created once they have graduated. A sense of affinity with Dickinson needs to be cultivated during the undergraduate experience, and even before. We must develop a clear plan to cultivate Dickinson identity and affiliation from admission to orientation to graduation. This project crosses all divisions of the college and should be undertaken by a task force representing all constituencies including of course alumni.

Strategic Goal C:  In all our outreach activities, we must not overlook the potential role of Dickinson parents as an integral part of the Dickinson community. We need to offer good programming for them while their daughters and sons attend the college, and we need to include them in our networking and volunteer activities.