A series of brief exchanges on the ALUMNI-L discussion list caught my attention a few months back. The topic?
The alumni director at a small U.S. public liberal arts college wrote,
Our institution is considering cutting Class Notes, births, weddings, engagements and death announcements from our print magazine, which goes out three times per year, and posting them on our online community only...If you are doing this how has it been received by alumni?
One response came from a small Canadian college:
Cut the Class Notes and you're basically saying to alumni: "this magazine is not about you, it's about us." You don't have to be wealthy, famous or fabulous to be in Class Notes, like you do to be in a feature story. You just have to be an alum...and you don't get any more inclusive than that.
A final answer to the original question came from the Director of Alumnae Relations at a U.S. women's college:
We have an alum section in our college magazine and it is the very first section that alums go to when they receive their magazine. Many of our older alums do not go online. We use this section to include as many alums as possible because classmates want to know as much about their classmates as possible.
My immediate reaction to the comments above was to agree with them. But after thinking it over, I was less sure. Regarding the commenter who said, "You don't get any more inclusive than that," I found myself thinking: Why bother being so inclusive? Aren't we confounding "what most alumni want" with "what most alumni who read class notes want"? The latter is a very small fraction of the total alumni population. On the other hand, they are an engaged population, so ultimately we should account for their interests.
As for alumni wanting "to know as much about their classmates as possible," it's true that only online alumni will see the constant status updates from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter that the rest of us consume. But online, the class note does seem to survive in the form of updates from these social network sites.
Ten years ago most alumni directors thought that printed class notes would simply move online, but it didn't happen that way. Alumni web sites in general have never attracted a consistent flow of traffic, so maybe the problem wasn't with class notes, but with the overall effectiveness of alumni web sites.
Class notes themselves are not dead, it's just that the "class" your alumni are reading about now includes not only fellow alumni, but fellow co-workers, neighbors, family members and others. The magic of information being aggregated and distributed in a single channel is now accessible to any group with which alumni identify. Class notes have lost their special quality to those who socialize online because it's no longer universities or schools that monopolize the communication channel. We all have equal access now.
What do you think?