Thursday, July 21, 2011

Business Schools: "Satisfied" Alumni

Dartmouth's Tuck leads top business schools in alumni-participation in donations

Who are the most satisfied alumni among top business schools?  "Satisfied," for these purposes, isn't defined by the alumni happiest in their careers, the most content in their outlook,  or the most optimistic about business opportunities. Satisfied," in this case, applies to alumni who are happiest about their business-school experiences. 

They are the ones who most appreciated the two years of toil to get the MBA and reflect fondly on time spent with professors, deans, classmates and career advisers. They might recall cheerfully the class "field trip" to China, the end-of-year skit performed before a standing-room crowd, or the thought-provoking cases in project finance. They will have appreciated the school's brand-new, state-of-art facility--featuring technology marvels and electronic wizardry.

Sometimes satisfaction in career correlates closely to satisfaction at business school, because alumni reason that the b-school experience helped prepare them well for a thriving career. Other times, unhappy alumni may not appreciate a long-ago experience until years after they graduate.

They will complain about a tortuous experience in an advanced accounting course while in school, but will appreciate the principles they learned while doing a deal years later. They will gripe that a school is too far from the finance centers of New York and Chicago, but will appreciate decades later the contacts they made and the friendships and networks they cultivated. They may not understand why they must take a required course in policy or decision-making until they are sitting in decision-making roles later on.

Business schools, their stakeholders, and those who try to rate, rank and evaluate business schools struggle to define ways to measure "alumni satisfaction."

One way they do it is not necessarily the best or fairest way. But they measure it anyway. They measure satisfaction by tallying up the numbers of alumni who contribute consistently to their respective schools.  They presume alumni happy with their experiences on campus will happily write checks once or twice a year. The amounts will vary, depending on what alumni are doing and where they are in their career stages.

Along this premise, CNN and Money magazine tried to determine which top schools have the "most satisfied" alumni based on percentage of alumni who give back ( Consortium school Dartmouth (Tuck) was a run-away leader with 67% of nearly 9,000 living alumni who made donations in a recent year.  Analysts attribute that to "satisfaction" with their experiences in Hanover, to appreciation of how Tuck prepared them for careers, and to Tuck's vast, tight global network of alumni.

Consortium schools Yale and Virginia (Darden) followed in second and third place, with 46% and 43% participation rates, respectively.

As with any list, readers should approach statistics-based rankings with care.  Some observers or deans say alumni giving is influenced by many factors. Some schools, for example, encourage alumni to write their big checks during reunion years (once every five years), so year-to-year participation rates can be misleading.  Other schools encourage alumni to contribute something--any amount in any way--every year to get into the habit of giving. 

Some, according to CNN, say public business schools lag because alumni may presume as neighboring tax-payers they are already supporting schools.  Other schools encourage giving, but are just as happy if alumni donate time, volunteer in service, or partipate in mentor programs, interview prospects, or recruit.

Satisfying and memorable experiences surely influence alumni giving. But economic conditions, personal situations, time constraints and the schools' own alumni infrastructure can be significant factors, too.  The development offices at some schools are more efficient and successful than at others.  National alumni networks are better organized at some schools. 

Then there could be the UC-Berkeley MBA graduate, who appreciates the courses and professors in entrepreneurship that helped her launch a start-up in nearby Silicon Valley. She has intentions to give back, but in her company's early stages does not have the resources or time to be "reflective" or "appreciative" of experiences at Haas. Or she simply promises herself to write the big check when her personal net worth soars.

In general, Consortium schools fared well on CNN's list.  Cornell (Johnson), 23% participation, was seventh; Consortium schools UCLA, Carnegie Mellon and USC were 11th, 12th and 13th , respectively with participation rates between 19-20%.  UC-Berkeley, Emory, UNC, Michigan, Indiana, NYU, and Texas were also included in the list. 

Consortium schools Wisconsin, Washington Univ., and  Rochester were not included on the list--likely because they were unintentionally omitted from the survey or CNN may not have had sufficient information.

For all schools, the median gift is about $150--suggesting that many alumni, no matter their age or experience or net worth, will make a nominal donation yearly because they are sufficiently satisfied and because they are respectful of the schools' solicitation efforts (the e-mails, the letters, and the phone calls).

What about giving rates among Consortium graduates? Do Consortium graduates give back to their schools? Do they also give back to the Consortium?  Compiling these statistics is more complex than it appears. Consortium graduates give back to their schools, probably in comparable percentages as the rest of their classmates. Many Consortium graduates give back to the Consortium, too. Some make donations to both; some request and hope contributions to the Consortium are also counted as contributions to their schools, and vice-versa. 

Some even dream of making a philanthropist-like contribution, too, once personal net worth soars "after the IPO" or after "the new business takes off."

In 2010, the Consortium reported a 13% increase in the amount of donations from over 1,200 individual donors (including alumni)--an increase that is due in part to improved economics, but also to the Consortium's own well-planned efforts to reach out to alumni and others.

The statistics may not capture one popular Consortium sentiment: Most, if not all, Consortium alumni, whether they contribute regularly or not, will say they are "satisfied" with the opportunity the Consortium experience afforded.

Tracy Williams

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