The first-ever Willamette University Alumni Survey was sent out last January to graduates of Willamette’s three schools: College of Liberal Arts (CLA), College of Law and Atkinson Graduate School of Management (AGSM).
The 24-question, 45-minute long survey consisted of multiple choice questions, rankings and opportunities for written comments. It was divided into four sections: decision (Do you think attending Willamette was a good decision?), promotion (Would you recommend and promote Willamette to others?), experience (What has your alumni experience been like?) and opinion (What is your opinion on the University now?).
In the five weeks following the survey’s release, 2,273 out of the 15,670 alumni contacted responded, putting the overall response rate at 14.5 percent. The response rate percentage by school was 10.77 percent for CLA, 18.98 percent for AGSM and 15.15 percent for the law school.
Before this survey was launched using the market research program Alumni Attitude Study, there had only ever been small surveys conducted for the CLA alumni. As Tyler Reich, the associate vice president of University relations stated, this lack of alumni data meant that anecdotal evidence from vocal alumni was some of the only feedback they could look to when making changes.
Consequently, the alumni survey was sent to Willamette alumni with a valid email address in the hopes of collecting data to inform the University on how to best move forward and serve alumni most effectively. To encourage alumni response, follow-up emails, social media posts, postcards and phone calls were all methods of contact utilized in addition to the initial email.
This first survey’s results will serve as baseline evidence, with a plan for the survey to be conducted every five to 10 years in order to track new ideas, thoughts and opinions.
Last March’s analysis of the data revealed that 90 percent of respondents believe that attending Willamette was a good or excellent decision; 89 percent of respondents think highly of Willamette overall.
Additionally, alumni voiced what they want to see in the future, such as an increase in regional programming, since both personal time and distance were listed as the two biggest barriers to alumni participation. The younger alumni also expressed that their relationship with Willamette post-graduation has not been as strong as it has been for older generations.
In response to this feedback, Reich said that multiple steps are being taken by the Alumni Board and the University as a whole to improve alumni connections. This includes focus-group meetings held last April in top alumni regions San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Salem. There has also been a recent increase in outreach by University President Stephen Thorsett to alumni through emails—an action that Reich said has so far been “well-received.”
To further enhance the alumni experience, Willamette is launching a virtual alumni programming initiative. Webinars with professors and online streaming of different campus events, like music concerts and speaker presentations, are currently being pursued as a means of strengthening connectivity. An upcoming example in December is law professor Warren Binford’s scheduled online presentation regarding the border crisis.
Although the survey resulted in thousands of unique, individual responses, Reich was able to condense all of the information into a relatively simple conclusion: at the end of the day, “Willamette alumni want a clear picture of the institution’s vision and how we’re getting there.”