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Alumni travel a two-way street

Student-school relations don't end with course

By Ian Grayson for CNN

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Top business schools treat their alumni as a valuable asset.

FACT BOX

FT's Executive MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Kellogg, U.S.
3. Chicago GSB, U.S.
4. Stern, NY, U.S.
5. Fuqua, Duke, U.S.
6. Hong Kong UST, China
7. Columbia, U.S.
8. Instituto de Empresa, Spain
9. London Business School, UK
10. Tanaka, Imperial College, UK
Source: Financial Times 2005

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EMBA SNAPSHOT

Executives taking the top EMBA courses in the U.S., Europe and Asia have average salaries of around $130,000 to $200,000.

A typical EMBA student is likely to be aged in the early 30s, with 6-10 years of working experience.

A top EMBA course can cost $100,000. Customized courses start at a few thousand dollars.

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(CNN) -- A student's relationship with his or her business school doesn't necessarily finish when the course or degree is completed -- for many people that is just the beginning.

Top-flight business schools pride themselves on the strong relationships they have with graduates and treat their alumni as a very valuable asset.

For alumni members, benefits include access to an exclusive network of peers who can assist them in anything from establishing contacts to starting a new business.

Many business schools and universities enthusiastically use their alumni as a team of ambassadors, promoting the benefits that flow from undertaking a degree or executive course at their facility.

Thomas Caleel, director of MBA admissions at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, says graduates are often surprised at the power and reach of the institution's alumni.

Everyone stays involved for their own reasons," he told CNN. "Like any network, if you come in and expect only to receive, you will be disappointed. But if you're prepared to put something in, you will get a lot back. It's hard to put a value on something like that."

Caleel says that while Wharton boasts a long line of famous alumni, he cautions anyone from selecting a school based on their list of high-profile past students.

"Anyone who does that is kind of missing the point," he says. "It is more important to look at the quality of the faculty and the course content. A strong alumni is a natural byproduct of that."

MBA admissions director at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, Derrick Bolton, says people should be aware there is a clear distinction between an alumni and a network of contacts.

"People come to business school to learn and share ideas, and if you do a good job at that then you will leave with a network as a byproduct," he says.

But there is a big difference if students begin a course with a key objective of linking into what they see as a potentially useful group. Bolton says his school actively screens out applicants who appear to have that as a primary motivation.

A strong alumni benefits a business school in other ways. Many schools use alumni members to undertake preliminary interviews of applicants, and encourage them to attend information events to provide first-hand knowledge of what the institution has to offer.

Financial donations are another important factor, with many schools relying on generous donations to maintain and extend their facilities. Bolton says Stanford's GSB enjoys financial support from around 40 per cent of its graduates.

London Business School is another institution which uses its alumni as an admissions and marketing tool. The school has more than 1500 graduates around the world who volunteer to undertake applicant interviews on a regular basis.

LBS associate dean of executive education, Ian Hardie, says alumni members are not only graduates of MBA degrees but are drawn from short courses as well. Any student who completes a four-week course at LBS is granted alumni status.

"We use the group as advocates," he says. "And we find that anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent of our applicants come as a result of a personal introduction. It's a very powerful thing."

Many schools also rely on the ongoing feedback supplied by their alumni, some of it coming years later. Once the graduates have had a chance to put what they learned in their degree or course into action, they are better placed to provide objective criticism of it to their institution.

Such feedback loops allow future courses and modules to be refined to better reflect the realities of the marketplace.

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