While initial enrolment at colleges and universities has risen in recent years, retention of students beyond their first year of study has dropped significantly. Students beginning their college and university years face unique social challenges, increasing diversity in student populations mean many students needs are being overlooked, and professors and instructors have more competition for their student’s attention than ever before. All these factors and more should be part of the thought-process behind the design of any student engagement strategy.
Connected, Yet Disconnected
While in many ways today’s students are seen as members of one of the most connected generations ever, their digital connections often come at the cost of analogy i.e., interpersonal connections. Multiple studies have reported student concerns surrounding feelings of isolation and loneliness in their early days on campus, a problem which is especially acute for students not living in residences, students pursuing degrees online, and students with no prior social contacts at their school.
When left unaddressed, these feelings can to lead students to leaving without completing their degrees. While events such as welcome weeks are great initial solutions for this problem, long-term strategies for engaging students not only with their coursework, but also each other, are equally important.
New Students, New Supports
More and more students entering higher education are the first in their family to do so. Such first-generation students need unique supports to help them make it across the stage at graduation. Often times, first generation students feel more pressure to succeed in their programs than students whose parents have obtained four-year degrees, but also enter into their higher education less prepared for the rigor and culture of college and university than their peers.
There are often multiple factors in the personal backgrounds of first-generation students that can cause them to feel set apart or even less than students whose parents have received higher education, and these factors can contribute to feelings of social isolation or low self-esteem as these students begin their studies. These challenges may ultimately lead students leaving prior to completing their degrees.
Mentorship programs, increased flexibility in coursework, easy access to academic support, increasing affordability of programs, and examining an institution’s culture for any biases that may exist against first generation students are all critical steps in effectively engaging and retaining students who are working towards being the first in their families to earn an advanced degree.
Make Technology Work for You, Not Against You
One would be hard-pressed to find a student without a cell phone in a lecture hall today. Students in today’s classrooms are more distracted than ever before; they can watch videos, scroll social media, play games, or chat with friends all without being obviously disruptive. But with their attention split so thoroughly, getting them to take part in their own education can be a daunting task. Applications that encourage participations through students’ personal devices could give instructors the upper hand
In addition to the obstacles, they can be to holding student’s attention, mobile technologies have changed the way most college- and university-aged students communicate on a significant level. E-mail and other traditional methods of communicating with students may not be as effective as chatrooms or instant messaging applications that mimic texting or social media.
Keeping students engaged throughout their post-secondary education is incredibly important to any institution of higher learning. By carefully considering the multitude of factors that contribute to student engagement and student success, colleges and university can develop strategies to keep students coming back to complete their degrees.