Student retention is a pressing issue for almost any higher education institution –and it’s easy to see why. Retention is both a measure of quality, as well as a financial concern, and something that is of the utmost importance to colleges and universities across the world. In fact, according to recent national surveys of college presidents, retention is routinely listed as one of the hottest issues. This isn’t surprising, given the budget constraints that many postsecondary schools are currently facing, and the sobering fact that less than sixty percent of the students entering a four-year college in America today will graduate within six years. With retention weighing heavily on everyone’s minds, the important question is, “What can be done to reduce attrition?” Furthermore, what role do institutions play in keeping students engaged and motivated? As it turns out, that role is more significant than you might think.
Engagement and Its Impact on Retention
It’s no secret that student engagement can have a significant impact on retention and research points to a strong correlation between a student’s sense of belonging and their success. While students have a great deal of responsibility for their own success, engagement is something that the institution can have a significant impact on as well. Finding ways of facilitating a sense of belonging by helping students to feel welcome, settle in easily, make friends, and connect with faculty, are all valuable and practical ways that universities can improve engagement and overall retention. One of the best tools for helping to foster a sense of belonging among students –is social media. Don’t for a minute think that social media is something that should be limited to lighthearted engagements. For students, it’s much more than that. Social media has truly transformed the social landscape, and for many students is their preferred format for receiving information. According to a report by Hanover Research that explores trends in higher education marketing and branding, universities should seek to embrace social media and use it to improve the student experience. Here’s a look at some of their suggestions for improving engagement through social media:
- Give a glimpse of student life (e.g., video campus tours)
For most institutions, attrition is most frequent during the first year of college. Nearly half of all of those who leave depart before the start of the second year. It follows, then, that universities should focus much of their efforts on the first few weeks of a student’s transition to college. Providing students with a way to view campus life and giving them the chance to connect with other students, early on can help them to form valuable connections from the start.
- Spread good news (e.g., university accolades, stories about faculty, research accomplishments)
Social media is a great place to share uplifting campus news, giving students who a much-needed boost of motivation. Getting the word out about areas where your university, faculty, and alumni are succeeding can help to encourage new, potential, and existing students alike –all while showcasing your institution in a positive light.
- Foster student-to-student or faculty-to-faculty discussion
Discussions are a vital part of building and maintaining connections, and social media makes it easier than ever for faculty and students to have important conversations. Creating a message board where students and faculty can reach out and share ideas is a great way to foster meaningful conversations while helping students to find information that they need –faster than traditional channels.
- Help students make connections
Research in higher education institutions shows that friendship and peer support are critical to many students’ decisions to stay in higher education - and that is something that social media can facilitate. Social media can also be extremely useful in connecting students with prospective employers. For example, DeVry University is using social media to open up conversations between students and experts in their field of study, as well as connecting alumni with professionals in their field, bringing engagement full circle.
- Ask and answer questions
Finally, social media provides a medium for students, parents, faculty and staff alike, to ask questions and provide feedback. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania encourages their community to shape their Lifelong Learning Program by submitting and up-voting suggestions about pressing topics and societal challenges they’d like Wharton to address. Of course, there are many other ways that social media can be used to help improve student engagement –and thanks to the wealth of tools that are available today, it’s easier than ever for students and faculty alike to connect with each other and have meaningful conversations.
A dedicated campus app?
From Facebook to WhatsApp, there’s no shortage of social media platforms and messaging tools that students can use. Universities that are looking to improve student engagement, though –may want to consider investing in a dedicated campus app. By using a platform that’s specifically designed to improve the student experience, universities can provide students with everything they need to fully experience campus life. This includes the chance to meet classmates, connect with extracurricular organizations, and find study groups, as well as the ability to view online course materials, such as syllabi and assignments; all while being able to communicate with professors and fellow students in a safe and welcoming environment. While social media isn’t a silver bullet that’s guaranteed to improve student retention; it certainly is a valuable, albeit underutilized vehicle for delivering information –that can help to foster a sense of community among students. When used correctly –a strong social strategy could make it easier to spark valuable conversations, improve student engagement, and facilitate learning, all crucial components for student retention –and success. Let’s keep the conversation going! What are your thoughts on using social media to keep students engaged?