CIT instigated a project to establish an alumni association in 2003 with the CIT Alumni and Friends Network (CITAF) officially launched in March 2004. Believed to be the first broad-based and multi-disciplinary TAFE network of its ilk, CITAF integrated a range of existing informal networks maintained by some CIT faculties to attract a broader range of former staff and students. Public relations activity was integral to CITAFs successful establishment and included media relations programming and special events management, further complemented by direct marketing techniques utilising database technology and direct mail collateral. The initial catalyst for CITAFs establishment was CIT Chief Executive Dr Peter Veenkers vision for greater VET sector community engagement through the establishment of meaningful collaborative arrangements and partnerships with local industry and community groups. (All of VETs Roles Must Be Acknowledged, Campus Review Feb 19-25, 2003). Designed to cultivate and strengthen industry and community links, CITAF has already exceeded all expectations with the first years membership projection of 500 swiftly superseded (over 800 members as of May 2004 just three months after CITAF establishment).
Operating since 1929, CIT is the major provider of vocational education and training for students in the Canberra region. Data collected by the CIT student administration centre indicates approximately 80,000 students have graduated from CIT since 1987 alone .
However, with the exception of isolated informal alumni networks, historical experience confirms that the formal link between the Institute and its students generally ceases on graduation. These informal networks, although
unsystematic, proved a logical conduit for CITAF establishment and to a certain extent, ensured a continuity of existing relationships between alumni, faculty members and industry.
Extensive research was undertaken prior to establishing CITAF. While alumni networks are traditionally successful in US and Australian universities, it was essential that CIT examine current best-practice models in Australian universities and multi-sector institutes and examine the potential of customising those models
In order to provide a solid base for CITAF, the following research was undertaken:
- Interviews were conducted with CIT senior staff, current students, past students and the CIT Students Association. Most stakeholders interviewed believed that a well-run Alumni and Friends Network could bring long-term mutual benefits for faculties and CIT as a whole. Most agreed that alumni are a valuable and influential network and can be an excellent asset, showcasing and promoting CITs capabilities as a high quality vocational education provider in Australia at local, regional and international levels. It was also widely noted that, given the perennial power of the personal recommendation, satisfied alumni are leading CIT ambassadors.
- A survey of Alumni Relations in NSW Universities conducted by the University of Technology outlined particular issues to be addressed before proceeding.
- A research trip to Swinburne University, RMIT, Gordon Institute of TAFE and William Angliss Institute of TAFE examined the approach these organisations took to establishing their respective alumni associations. A variety of elements were examined including: the database systems, office operations, alumni activities, promotional strategies, problems and challenges in relation to running and alumni office and future directions.
Overall, the research trip confirmed: 1) the importance of selecting an appropriate alumni database system; 2) the need for dedicated resources and staff to manage the project; and 3) the long-term benefits of an alumni network for the institution. It was also found that alumni prove to be a very effective way of promoting Australian education throughout Asia-Pacific.
The target public for CITAF was separated into two major groups, with membership being free.
ALUMNI: includes all former students, teachers and staff
FRIENDS: organisations and individuals who make outstanding contributions and offer valuable support to CIT.
Launch and establishment activity for CITAF consisted of an integrated marketing communication program combining direct marketing, public relations and special event management. It is important to note that CIT is thought to be the first TAFE institution in Australia to establish an alumni network. Other TAFE institutions have specialised networks covering one major sector and others are multi-sector institutions with a higher education component as part of the organisation.
A project manager was appointed to manage the development, execution and ongoing management of CITAF. A business case was presented and approved, a business plan was formed and a steering committee consisting of CIT senior staff, former students and industry representatives established. The role of the steering committee was to provide strategic advice and ongoing support for the successful development and implementation of the network and to promote the concept of an alumni network within CIT and the wider community.
CITAF was launched on March 9, 2004 by CIT Alumnus and former Governor- General of Australia, the Honourable Bill Hayden AC. The gathering of CIT alumni data was then executed in three stages:
STAGE 1: a mail out to approximately 17,000 students who graduated from CIT between 1998 and 2003. See Attachment A
STAGE 2: the distribution of a postcard, Phone Home, aimed at attracting CIT alumni who completed studies outside the period covered by the mail out or who had changed address since that time. See Attachment B
STAGE 3: ongoing promotion of CITAF at graduations, including an announcement made prior to every ceremony, an information booth where graduates can find out more information and register their interest, and promotion of CITAF in all external and internal CIT publications. See Attachment C for example of promotional collateral.
One of the tasks outlined in the CITAF project business case was the development and implementation of a comprehensive communication strategy. The key objectives of the integrated communication strategy are as follows:
To educate clients on the concept of alumni and staying connected after graduation and employment at CIT
To promote both short and long term benefits of the association to alumni,CIT staff and industry as well as the community
To increase the membership numbers of alumni, former staff and Supporters in industry
To strengthen CITs image as the firstchoice for life long learning in the community
Provide updates on professional development activities for alumni Regular alumni success stories used for media and editorial purposes
Each of these objectives and implementation strategies has hinged on effective public relations strategy combining media relations, editorial services and marketing communication collateral.
Creating news to secure media placement is a key factor in success. For instance, the launch event attracted coverage by virtue of CITAFs establishment but this was considerably enhanced by the inclusion of a VIP presence. In the longer-term CITAF is expected to deliver ongoing public relations opportunities in terms of events, membership growth, achievements and through the brokering of innovative partnerships. These media opportunities will be optimised via a well rounded public relations program encompassing regular distribution of media kits, availability to comment notices, collateral and event invitations, facility tours and meet and greets.
Public relations is an important factor in the overall marketing communication strategy adopted because regular and generous electronic and print media coverage ensures CIT is continuously top of mind i.e. CIT is a partner in lifelong learning for the broader ACT community. A critical mass of this type of highly credible editorial coverage supports direct response advertising and other seasonal or calendar driven marketing activity.
The goal of CIT Alumni and Friends (CITAF) is to build and strengthen linkages and partnerships with former students and staff, industry and the community in order to raise the profile of CIT and provide increased opportunities and
support for current students.
Build and strengthen linkages and partnerships with former students and staff, industry and the community
- CITs original aim was to collect 500 alumni and friends in the first year. The database now has over 800 CITAF members with details being included and updated regularly.
Raise the profile of CIT
- CIT has experienced increased media coverage since the establishment of CITAF. The success stories of CIT alumni allow the Institute to demonstrate how a qualification from CIT can benefit future careers.
- Profiles and images of CITAF members have been used in advertising and editorial as part of CITs strategy of using real people to demonstrate real outcomes.
- CIT alumni will be involved in Open Day for the first time this year to assist in providing information to prospective students interested in their particular subject areas.
Provide increased opportunities and support for current CIT students
- Over 150 alumni have indicated interest in volunteering and mentoring programs. As a result, they have been given the opportunity to participate in the Smith Family XcelR8 program, targeted at mentoring underprivileged CIT students in their specific industry area. They have also had the opportunity to participate in the Home Tutor Scheme which is run by CIT on behalf of the Adult Migrant English Program and provides an Englishspeaking tutor to adult migrants.
A full evaluation of the CITAF project is due to be undertaken in March 2005, one year since its establishment. However, ongoing anecdotal evaluation of CITAF has found the project to be a positive addition to CITs marketing
The initial target for the CITAF database was 500 members in the first year. After six months, there are over 800 members of CITAF with the number increasing on a daily basis. CITAF members are keen to respond to offers to participate in CIT activities, with interest being registered in Open Day participation only two days after the request for volunteers was issued. The responsiveness of members indicates there is strong support for a network within the local, national and international community.
Regular feedback to the Manager from CITAF members and CIT staff has been extremely positive. Staff have embraced the network and understand the advantages of an alumni and friends can bring. For example, CITs Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management is producing a cookbook using alumni and friends contacts. This exemplifies the positive attitude of faculties towards CITAF as staff are keen to use their cooking graduates to produce the book.
Feedback from CITAF members via the membership forms sent out has provided valuable insight into the perception of a CIT Alumni and Friends network. Comments have been positive and full of praise. See Attachment F Overall, the CIT Alumni and Friends Network has been a positive addition to the marketing and public relations activities of the Institute. Alumni are the best ambassadors for CIT and the means by which they can be used to add value
to current CIT activities is unlimited.
According to CIT Chief Executive, Dr Peter Veenker:
Our alumni are our greatest resource. They represent the best of CIT and through their successful careers, help us illustrate the limitless possibilities of a CIT education. I believe that there is no surer sign of a healthy education system than an active and committed alumni network and given the responsiveness and enthusiasm of the network, it is obvious CIT is highly regarded within the wider community.