Generic emails asking you to start giving back to your school right after you've graduated. Snail mail with a picture of happy students and a return address for you to send a donation. Every message you get is about the money.

Unfortunately, this is the relationship many graduates have with their school.

The common methods of snail mail, email, and cold calls worked in alumni relations for years. In the past 20 years, technology has continued to challenge the reliability of those outlets.

Lets look at the data. For 85 years, alumni engagement was stagnant. The process of reaching out to graduates asking for money using traditional methods was reliable. Then we hit the 90's and everything changed. The numbers started plummeting, and graduates started using things like social media and blogs. Now, alumni engagement is the lowest it has ever been, right around 9% in the United States.

It's no wonder why people like Peter Thiel have publicly downgraded the importance of a college education. With the rising cost of tuition, the risk associated with getting a degree is becoming harder to defend. What's worse is many institutions still haven't come up with a viable solution. And with the national average of involved alumni falling, one must ask if the risk is worth the reward.

Although the situation looks grim, many schools have started innovating their graduate outreach plans. Some universities have started utilizing social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. These tools have reduced the time for schools to reach their alums, and also now can help colleges get better data on their donors.

For instance, do your parents still receive your school's mail that's directed to you? This is a common problem among schools that social networks like LinkedIn have now solved. More schools have started harnessing data from social networks to get updated info on their donors. The other push has been into creating groups, where the ultimate goal is to bring alums together.

While technology has challenged the methods schools use to reach alums, it also has raised the bar content. This is especially true for the millennial generation of graduates. Young alums are used to everything from tailored ads to finding relevant content within seconds. If there's one way to lose a millenial donor for life, it's by repeatedly sending them nonexclusive messages.

To adapt to this, some institutes have started creating their own social networks for their graduates. The struggle that many of them face is like any other social network, giving their users enough value to use the system. A struggle for alumni directors is being able to differentiate between information and engagement. This is especially true for schools hoping to reach their young alumni through custom made mobile apps.

With the rise in the number of apps, unless a school can provide continued value for its alum they will suffer from low adoption. Common practices like a directory or facts about the university are producing lackluster results. Colleges are now looking to provide networks that can keep alums engaged everyday, aspiring to build what Google refers to as a "toothbrush" app. Obviously, that's no easy task.

The other trend that we've begun to see is the focus on engaging alums before they even get their diploma. While technology has made it easier to get a message out, it also has made it difficult to break through the noise of other media outlets. For schools this means that being able to create a connection before graduation is becoming more important. And while students may not be able to give large donations, the lifetime value of an engaged alum is much more valuable than a one time donor.

Transitioning to put more of a focus to engage the millennial generation of alums is a tough mission. But if accomplished, it could revamp an industry that's been scared to change for a while. The greatest obstacle will be for alumni directors to be able to be able to adapt to the rapid changes in technology. In other words they can't be afraid to "rock the boat."

One way institutions should enforce this change in thinking is to encourage alumni staffs to think like a company. Any business owner knows the importance of having reoccurring revenue. Not only can you predict the future of your business easier, but also you become less reliant on things like the economy and market. If you have alum engaged from graduation every year, is that much different? In any business, you must be able to change and innovate or eventually you will be punished. Is the alumni relations market any different?

One thing is for sure; the way institutions are engaging alumni is changing. The question is if technology will innovate or dissipate the ability for schools to create meaningful relationships with their alums.