As a social scientist, I get pretty excited when a data set is able to shed new light on important human phenomena or help us answer compelling questions.
That’s how I felt when I saw the initial findings from the University of Toronto’s first-ever Alumni Impact Survey. We already knew, based on the wonderful stories we hear on a daily basis, that our graduates make a difference for the better in so many fields of human endeavour. But now, as a result of this major academic study – which deployed rigorous, cutting-edge survey methodology – we can actually measure the social, economic and cultural contributions of our global community of more than half a million alumni.
Traditionally, universities have gauged their impact in rather narrow economic terms, based on tracking the expenditures made by their faculty, students and administration. The idea of undertaking more comprehensive alumni impact surveys is quite new, and the scope of such studies continues to evolve. In 2015, Harvard University’s study surveyed aspects of their graduates’ social impact, measuring activities such as volunteer hours and service on boards.
With our own study, we have broken new ground by providing an even more comprehensive picture of alumni contributions. We have broadened the scope of our inquiry by including additional categories of social impact such as mentorship, and by measuring the full array of cultural outputs produced by our graduates. It’s an appropriate accomplishment, given our global standing as a research and innovation powerhouse. Special credit for these crucial innovations goes to Professor Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation, and Professor Shiri Breznitz of the Munk School of Global Affairs, who co-directed the study with the assistance of an independent research firm.
So what have we learned? Here are a few highlights of the initial findings.
More than half of our alumni serve as volunteers for a range of causes and institutions – on average for 15.4 hours per month – and 62 per cent of our alumni serve as mentors in their workplaces and communities. Though we recognize many famous novelists, filmmakers and other cultural leaders who have graduated from U of T, the survey reveals that in total our alumni have created more than 89,000 works of literary, performing or visual art for public consumption. When it comes to leadership in the business world, our graduates have founded some of Canada’s best-known firms. In addition, our survey results reveal that one in four U of T alumni has founded at least one company or not-for-profit organization, and in total these enterprises currently generate $368 billion US in annual revenue and employ 3.7 million people around the world.
Over the next several months we’ll continue to unpack and analyze the survey data. Later this spring, we’ll launch a website – alumni.utoronto.ca/alumni-impact-survey – to provide updates on the major themes that are emerging. Whether you’re a startup founder, a playwright, a coach at your neighbourhood rec centre or one of the tens of thousands of professionals, public servants and knowledge workers among our graduates, I believe you’ll be impressed, and even more proud of your association with the University of Toronto.
We’re very grateful to the large number of alumni who completed the survey, ensuring we would have the wealth of data required to produce a study of the highest academic quality. Ultimately, they and their fellow alumni are the ones responsible for the great story we’re now able to tell, allowing us to document more fully how the U of T community serves as a force for good in our society.
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre