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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Social Media Make Finding “Missing” Alumni Cheap and Easy

Here’s an idea that could catch on: using social media to find people you haven’t heard from in a while.  And here’s something even more amazing. Graduate schools and departments, especially those granting Ph.D.s, often lose track of their graduates and therefore often fail to provide information on the professional fate of their programs’ alumni to prospective students.  It turns out they can can look for those alumni in places like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google +. Who knew?

We know of this astounding technological breakthrough because the Chronicle of Higher Education (paywall) reports on two successful efforts to do so.  Karen Klomparens, dean of the graduate school at Michigan State University, decided to look for 3,000 Ph.D.s the school produced over the last 2 decades.  Sheila Tobias, who has a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to foster Professional Science Masters (PSM) programs, and Susan Richards, assistant dean of the College of Education at the University of Arizona, joined forces to track down 2,400 people who earned PSM degrees between 2002 and 2010 but whose whereabouts and occupations were not known to their universities. (See this related article in Science Careers.)

Both efforts were successful and relatively cheap. Armed with the names of graduates when they were students, their university, the name of their program, and the year they graduated–information universities already have–searchers could usually turn up people in minutes, although those who had changed their names or were living in foreign countries sometimes took longer.  It cost Klomperens approximately $10 a head to find 3000 alumni, using a team of paid undergraduates to search.  Tobias and Richards report finding about 80% of the graduates they sought.

Finding people on social media cuts out the need for getting them to respond to surveys, the article’s authors claim.  Some critics argue that the information people post may be biased or inaccurate.  But given how fast, cheap, and effective the method seems to be, departments and graduate schools no longer have any excuse for not knowing what has become of their alumni.