Keeping Up With Graduating Students

Today I’d like to share with you a project, that was started exactly one year ago, the Graduating Student T-Shirt or “My Name Is On Senior Walk” t-shirt program. In short it’s the number one way we have found to keep up with our graduating students and get their information before we lose touch with them.

Here at the University of Arkansas we do not offer email for life so shortly after graduation, the time changes from one year to the next, their University email account expires. Also all their information will likely end up addressed to the parents as that is most accurate address for the students until they figure out where they are going (not all but most); yet we don’t always get that one. Thus, we needed to come up with a way to get at least an update email address and if possible information on where they were planning to go next (physically, professionally and academically).

Students love free stuff!

Therefore, we’ve taken the concept of a Free T-Shirt and added a little unique campus twist to it (as everyone should). Our twist is based around our unique campus tradition called “Senior Walk”. This is the tradition where we engrave the names of all our graduates in the sidewalks across the campus for all future students to see and to show our pride in our graduates. However, since graduates cannot take the sidewalk with them we’ve created a t-shirt with “My Name Is On Senior Walk” print largely on the back so that they may wear it with pride and show off their achievement.

Collecting their information before they go!

The first thing that we had to determine was what information we really wanted to collect from the students and why we needed it. As you may know, no one likes to fill out long forms. So this year we came up with the following form (a modified version of the 2010 print form).

The number one benefit of going to an online form is that we can require a Non University Email address on the form. Therefore this year no online submissions will include a University email address and we’ll hopefully have better luck staying connected with them via this channel.

The program works!

The first year we ran this program, back in 2010, we were able to get over 500 graduating students to updated their contact information and connect with an Alumni Association staff member one-on-one to discuss their future plans along with how the Alumni Association would be here to help them.  However, this year by taking the form to an online application we have already gotten over 700 graduating students to update their information and they will still be meeting with an Association staff member to talk one-on-one and get their t-shirt.

How do you get an online form to drive one-to-one connections?

This actually came about as a two part issue: we wanted one-to-one interaction and we could not afford to snail mail everyone a t-shirt (although we do mail a few for the distance education students). Therefore, we knew we’d still need the students to come and pickup their free t-shirt which would also allow us the opportunity to talk one-on-one with them about the Association. Yet, how to know if they submitted the online form?

Meet our friend the “FREE TEE” coupon!

We developed a redemption coupon for graduating students to claim their “My Name Is On Senior Walk” t-shirt. The coupon served a multitude of purposes the smallest of which was to redeem the t-shirt. More importantly it included:

  1. The student’s name (it’s always good to address them by their name) but that is more to mark them off the list of recipients than anything else.
  2. “Fayetteville, AR” on my example above is the Destination City Post-Graduation which allows our staff members to know where they are headed and talk about our alumni groups that are in the area and of more interest to the students.
  3. “Find Job” on my example above is the Plans Post-Graduation which also allows the staff members to have a more personalized one-to-one conversation with the students about their plans and how the Association can help them.
  4. The QR code stores the Post Graduation Address information of the student and also offered a “green” option for the students that didn’t want to print out the coupon. Our campus is big on sustainability.

In short the redemption coupon was developed as a resource for the staff members talking with the students so that they could have a more personalized one-to-one conversation with our graduating students and start building a long lasting relationship with our upcoming alumni.

The program doesn’t end there…

Although this is the end of the data collection story for getting new grads information before they leave campus and disappear off our radar, it’s only the beginning of the relationship with our newest alumni. The relationship must be continued with a marketing and communications plan tailored for our new graduates (using the information we just collected) to help us keep them connected to their Alma Matter. However I’ll save that story for another day.

  • Matt Lindsay

    A great idea and a great post. I work at George Washington University, which recently instituted email for life BUT I find from anecdotal evidence that folks frequently come to disregard their university-provided email. Its all about getting that GMail account that they are really using. This is a well thought out idea, I like the online form and integration of the QR code as well as the little tidbits of information you included.

    – Do you have a value assigned to updated contact information? That is, if you say that every good updated address is worth $5 you can say 700 addresses are valued at $3,500 and then compare that with your cost outlay.
    I think there is a lot of guesswork in assigning a value to contact information but some institutions like to think this way.

    Thanks for the tip Paul!

    – Matt Lindsay
    George Washington University Office of Alumni Relations (http://alumni.gwu.edu)
    Association for Social Media and Higher Education (http://www.socialmediahighered.com)

  • http://www.paulprewitt.com Paul Prewitt


    That is interesting as our campus IT group did a study and found that most students forward or disregard their University email address while on campus. Thus, I would agree with you and that we need to get the other one instead.

    One thing I forgot to mention is that the web form prevents the use of a University email address in the “Non University Email” box. This pretty much forces them to give us their GMail or other account as you mentioned. And with the coupon going to it we know they “can” check it.

    The thought about assigning a direct value per record update is interesting but we’ve never done that here. I could see the value behind it (justifying a directory update project, bio update pieces, etc.). However, I agree with you that it would be tricky to get the right values set and then you’d need to create some sort of industry standard for comparison. That could be a fun thing to play with though.

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