- If a student doesn’t feel like they fit in or can’ find their community, they may seek it elsewhere and impact retention rates
- Establishing a sense of belonging within a college environment has a major impact on enrollment and retention
- Learn how to create community, retain students and increase engagement
For many young adults, college is the first opportunity to flourish intellectually, socially, artistically, and in many other ways.
However, studies have shown that student retention tends to be an issue for many colleges and universities. Is it the rigorous academic schedule? Or do they feel like they don’t belong? Or maybe they aren’t supported by mentors or professors?
Although it can be one or a combination of these factors, establishing a sense of belonging within a college environment has a major impact on enrollment and retention. This can look different depending on the student—some are interested in Greek life, others want to join the orchestra, some enjoy intramural sports, and others may like all three!
But if a student doesn’t feel like they fit in, they are likely to seek out an environment where they do. In this blog post, we explore ways to create community, retain students, and increase engagement in college.
What Contributes to Retaining College Students?
First, let’s get the truth out of the way. It’s not uncommon for institutions to have some percentage of students who do not return for their second year, as this study from the University of Maine System illustrates.
- Student retention is the percentage of students who continue to enroll in classes at the same institution.
- Student persistence is the percentage of students who continue into their second year of college, even if they aren’t attending the same institution.
Although student persistence is a good thing, you want students returning to your institution, not transferring to another institution because they haven’t found what they want from your institution.
As the University of Maine System study shows, student retention can be determined by faculty support, financial status, academic skills, and community involvement. To this last point, studies have shown that students who are actively involved in extracurricular activities or the student community tend to have better retention rates. These activities can include clubs, sports, study groups, and more.
As the study “Impact of Community Experiences on Student Retention Perceptions and Satisfaction in Higher Education” suggests, a student’s feeling of community and belonging plays a major role in helping them stay engaged, reach graduation, and enjoy the journey.
Organic Opportunities to Create Community
Many college students will find ways to make friends and interact with one another naturally. However, for those who might struggle to create community, it’s crucial to set up opportunities that engage them socially and academically and provide a path through their college experience.
Here are three suggestions for how you can create these opportunities:
Host Inclusive Events
Inclusivity starts with being aware of your diverse student body. From there, you can host events that are mindful of as many individuals as possible. For example:
- Is your event specific to those who lean closer to extroversion? Can you supplement this event with an opportunity for students to interact in smaller groups?
- Do your events primarily take place in the evenings? Can you host events during the day to accommodate commuters?
- Are your events focused on physical games or sports? How can you accommodate people with physical disabilities?
- Do you host weekend events that allow students to socialize in an alcohol-free environment?
The more inclusive you can make your events, the better you can facilitate positive peer relationships.
Facilitate the Development of Student-Teacher Relationships
According to UCL’s BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) Awarding Gap Project, positive student-teacher relationships contribute to students’:
- Sense of belonging
- Commitment to education
- Intellectual development and achievement
Students can develop these relationships through out-of-classroom interactions, such as faculty office hours. Not only does this contribute to their academic success, but it also helps them feel connected to the institution.
In addition to office hours, plan weekly or biweekly department coffee meetings. Here, students can get to know the professors in the department and other students in their major in a casual manner that is less focused on academic work.
Provide Role Models for New Students
Who better to learn from than students who have already been through their first year of college?
Whether it concerns socializing, academics, or anything else related to the college experience, find ways to facilitate the development of positive peer relationships. This could involve creating a program in which new students pair up with students who are several years into college. Or instead, you can gear the program toward specific hobbies or planned career paths.
Much like the faculty-student relationship, a mentorship program can promote a sense of belonging and motivate students to stay committed to their college careers.
Create Community and Gather Data with Mixtroz
Whether you are pairing new students with other students, mentees, or faculty members, community can be facilitated using Mixtroz. This platform facilitates meaningful peer-to-peer discussion and groups individuals with similar or dissimilar interests through a series of thought-provoking questions.
Plus, Mixtroz is incredibly useful for collecting data. We know how difficult it is to get students to fill out surveys and respond to emails. Using Mixtroz, you can gather helpful information from students in real time that can lead to better understanding and future planning.
Want to learn how Mixtroz works in a college setting? Check out our case study from Baldwin Wallace University.