What You Said: Survey of CSU Alumni Reveals Strengths and Areas Needing Improvement

 From Focus magazine, Fall 2013

By John Lester

he first-ever survey of Columbus State University’s alumni has revealed valuable information about CSU’s graduates and what they think about their alma mater, and the results will provide the basis for future Alumni Association programming and events.

Bottom-line impressions are that the university's alumni are pleased with their educational experience and feel good overall about Columbus State University. However, the research also shows many apparently are unaware of how to become engaged with the university and the alumni association after they graduate.

This insight will greatly aid CSU's alumni relations staff as it moves forward, adds another employee and explores different ways to serve CSU alumni.

"I'm very pleased with what we learned," said Jennifer Joyner, director of CSU's Office of Alumni Relations. "I think it shows our alumni feel good about the experiences they had at CSU, and it shows there are a lot of opportunities for us to connect with them as alumni."

To discover these alumni attitudes and opinions, the alumni relations office contracted with the university's Social Research Center to design, distribute and analyze the survey. Kyle Christensen, professor and director of the research center, distributed the survey to about 5,600 alumni from the university's records with a goal of determining “the needs, interests, and goals of the alumni community.”

About 400 people completed at least part of the survey, and 290 graduates completed the survey entirely. With a confidence interval of plus-or-minus 6 percent, Christensen said the respondents were representative of those emailed, in terms of location, gender, age and donor status.

"Most people have a positive opinion of CSU in general," Christensen said, noting that more than 90 percent of respondents said it was a good or great decision to attend Columbus State University. That opinion was emphasized by more than 95 percent of respondents who responded "excellent" or "good" to two key questions:

  • "Which of the following best describes your experience as a student at Columbus State University?"
  • "Which of the following best describes your current opinion of Columbus State University?"

While the overwhelmingly positive responses to those questions were gratifying to discover, perhaps more revealing were the responses to questions asked about our graduates' experiences as alumni. The responses were not negative, as more than 40 percent responded "good." But the most instructive part was that almost the same percentage of people responded with "no opinion."

"This is a red flag," Christensen said. "Our alumni really have an information gap. We have a great opportunity to reach out to them to get involved."

These insights come just as the university is finalizing its updated strategic plan, which will explicitly list expanding alumni engagement as one of its primary goals. Such a focus will also likely be included in the CSU's Foundation's strategic plan, which will be developed now that the university has finished its work, said Alan Medders, vice president for university advancement.

"We timed this data-gathering effort to complement all the planning efforts we have under way," Medders said. "This information will be so useful as we develop events, communications, alumni groups and other efforts in the coming years."

Other highlights of the survey, based on those who responded:

  • More than 85 percent of alumni promote CSU to others at least sometime.
  • Alumni overwhelmingly believe their degree prepared them for their current job, new careers and for graduate school.
  • About 35 percent participated in campus organizations and-or professional or career-related organizations while in college.
  • Distance away from CSU, family or job commitments and time are the most prevalent limiting factors that prevent alumni from participating in more activities.Email is the most preferred way of communicating.
  • Quality of the university's communications (magazine, email, websites) are generally thought to be good or excellent.
  • Most people read alumni communications.
  • Almost 40 percent currently financially support CSU and plan to continue.
  • A majority of alumni did not know that their gifts reduce tuition and expenses for current students.
  • Alumni want to hear more about graduate programs.
  • Most alumni don't attend CSU athletic events, but of those who do, basketball is most popular.

"These survey results are really going to drive the actions of our board of directors," Joyner said. Her initial observations were that the alumni association needed to concentrate on communication, mentoring and networking. Some of those areas are already being addressed with monthly programs such as the alternating First Thursday and Cougar Coffee events, the new alumni website and a new focus on collecting email addresses and up-to-date contact information for all alumni.

Such efforts follow the survey report's four recommendations:

  1. There is "tremendous growth potential" for expanding Columbus State University's alumni network and engagement.
  2. Ensure whatever experiences and communications are developed are of high quality so alumni feel it is worth their time.
  3. Keep a focus on the expanding quality and stature of the university.
  4. Develop the alumni network by engaging existing students.

"Our alumni are vitally important to the past, present and future of Columbus State University," Medders said. "We should be very proud that they see great value in the degree they earned here. We now need to make sure we figure out more ways for them to stay connected, and see the value of doing so."

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