Many universities boast about how influential their alumni networks are in ensuring students are gainfully employed upon graduation. This promise has become so ubiquitous in higher education that there are several publicly available rankings of the most powerful alumni networks. These networks are often ranked based upon alumni donorship rates.
It is clear why colleges and universities boast about these strong networks: Career-related reasons are the single most frequently mentioned reason college students report attending higher education in the first place, and most Americans believe completing a college degree is essential to getting a good job. Additionally, having a good job upon graduation has been consistently demonstrated as critical to graduates’ long-term success.
Gallup asked 5,100 graduates just how helpful these undergraduate alumni networks have been in their careers thus far. Unfortunately, just 9% of graduates reported their alumni network has been very helpful or helpful to them in the job market. More than twice as many graduates (22%) report it has been very unhelpful or unhelpful. The vast majority of graduates (69%) report it was neither helpful nor unhelpful — which means alumni networks are a non-factor for many graduates in the job market.
Many highly ranked, selective universities, and higher education leaders declare that elite universities maintain an advantage over less selective institutions and that their alumni networks are more helpful to their graduates. Gallup finds little evidence to suggest that’s the case. There are statistically significant but substantively minor differences in alumni’s perceptions of their network based on whether they graduated from an elite institution or not.
One in six alumni from top 50 ranked U.S. News colleges and universities say their alumni network has been helpful or very helpful to them in the job market. While these alumni are slightly more likely than alumni from lower-ranked schools to perceive their alumni network as helpful, the differences are relatively minor and unlikely to offset the significant differences in tuition costs.
Interestingly, alumni network helpfulness also does not differ for graduates from different majors, genders or by the size or control of the institution (public versus private) they attended.
College students’ expectations are clear on this issue; they are expecting and demanding a good job upon graduation. Gallup research suggests that there many important activities students can engage in during college to increase their odds for landing such a job — namely having an internship during college in which a graduate can apply what they were learning in the classroom — but the research does not support widespread claims that alumni networks are doing so.