As any seasoned higher education professional knows, getting new students on campus is just the beginning. Keeping them involved through targeted university student engagement strategies matters just as much.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse, around one-third of all U.S. college students transfer at least once before earning their degree. Another source estimates that, depending on the institution type, that number can go as high as 60%.
To keep students at your institution, you have to keep them engaged. As our 2023 Student Retention Survey shows, that requires improving all variables—from academics to student life.
In other words, your university student engagement strategies have to span the entire spectrum of everything your students experience while at your institution. These eight evidence-based strategies can help. Ultimately, implementing them will drive more engaged students and improve your college student retention in the process.
1. Highlight Your Educational Opportunities—Beyond the Majors
Our College Student Retention survey clearly shows that the primary motivation for students transferring out of a school connects to educational opportunities. That makes inherent sense. Students who are unhappy in their major or simply didn’t find their intended program of study at their original institution will look for opportunities elsewhere.
Implementing new academic programs is not among the university student engagement strategies you can quickly implement. A quicker fix, however, lies in expanding how you talk about the opportunities you already have in place. This strategy can work even if those opportunities don’t naturally lie within a single major.
A school that doesn’t offer a journalism degree might instead offer communication and writing classes in the same direction. Showcasing internships and other field experiences at relevant publications can get a similar point across. Once you can begin to communicate the more holistic educational experiences that still lead to success in your students’ preferred fields, the major itself will begin to matter less.
2. Improve Your Orientation Experience
Numerous studies show that new student orientation is a significant predictor of college student retention. However, according to our survey, the vast majority of transfer students were either actively or somewhat involved in their initial school’s orientation program.
This, in turn, leads to only one natural conclusion: improving your orientation experience has to be among the highest priorities of university student engagement strategies at your campus.
For example, consider the importance of technology for your incoming students in the orientation experience. The ability to share timely information, create an online hub of information, and have two-way communication all matter as new students familiarize themselves with your institution. You already know that they’ll likely participate; now, it’s time to ensure their participation yields as many benefits for them as it does for you.
3. Promote and Enhance Your Extracurricular Activities
The 2023 Student Retention Survey clearly shows that extracurricular activities matter to all students. Most respondents participated in at least two extracurricular groups or activities. A significant portion participated in three, four, or even five or more activities.
Contrast that with the fact that the second most important reason to transfer, after educational opportunities, revolves around a vibrant campus life. University student engagement strategies, therefore, have to include at least some component of promoting student involvement across campus and interest areas.
That process can take a wide range of forms. For example, you can offer your student clubs and organizations better and more obvious ways to promote their events on your institution’s primary communications channels. A club fair, ideally close to orientation or move-in day, can also drive that engagement. You can even leverage student ambassadors who more actively showcase what it’s like to become involved in clubs like dance, tabletop gaming, or sailing.
4. Drive More Student-Professor Engagement
The 2023 Student Retention Survey had another eye-opening takeaway that should play a major role in driving your university student engagement strategies. Of transferring students, only 65% of students, or less than two-thirds, visited with a professor during office hours at their original school.
That means more than one-third of transferring students are likely not just unhappy with educational opportunities but are either unwilling or unable to seek help from the people who should be their greatest educational mentors while in college. It also shows the absolute necessity for colleges and universities to:
- Promote more one-on-one sessions with professors
- Highlight mentorship opportunities wherever possible
Part of that process has to involve the professors themselves. They should actively encourage students to meet with them one-on-one during office hours to discuss their educational paths. But it should also be easy for students to reach out to professors and find their office hours. Provide clear directory information on the website or student portal to reduce complications.
5. Promote Your School’s Amenities Throughout the Student Lifecycle
In addition, respondents from our 2023 Student Retention Survey are, perhaps surprisingly, unaware of their original school’s amenities. Nearly half of all transferring students were only somewhat aware of amenities that might range from computer labs to open pools and gyms, eating options beyond the dining hall, and more. Nearly 15% were completely unaware.
Again, communication becomes key. Put simply, no matter how great your school’s amenities are, they will not be appreciated if students don’t know about or take advantage of them. Schools must be able to clearly communicate their campus offerings, including everything from basic needs like printing to extras like a rock climbing wall.
That communication can occur in any number of ways. It begins during move-in day but should also stretch into the students’ everyday lives. Clearly available campus maps that showcase amenities, along with clear and obvious signage and promotions on the physical campus, can go a long way toward accomplishing that awareness.
6. Consistently Highlight Campus Events
Most schools pride themselves on the number and range of campus events they offer. Student performances, guest lectures, club gatherings, esports tournaments, bingo nights, and external concerts with well-known artists can all enhance what is likely already a lively campus life.
However, the problem with university student engagement strategies is the perceptual gap between what the administration thinks is a vibrant campus event scene and how students perceive that scene. It shines through clearly in our survey. A more vibrant campus community is a core reason for transferring. Two-thirds of transfer students might have reconsidered their decision if their initial school offered more campus events.
Part of the solution has to be communication around the events already in place. But it might also require more comprehensive change, such as:
- A cross-functional committee that includes both students and administrators planning campus events every year
- Making sure that the campus life offers consistently high quality and fun for all parts of the student population
7. Simplify Navigation Between and Inside Campus Buildings
Sometimes, the best university student engagement strategies are also the most straightforward. It might not have been a surprise to discover that, according to our student retention survey, navigation remains a significant challenge across campuses. Nearly 44% of respondents found campus navigation simple with ample resources. But an even bigger percentage found it somewhat challenging or outright difficult.
This seemingly minor challenge can become a major issue, especially for incoming and first-year students. Not being able to find classes, amenities, or campus events can lead to isolation and low participation.
Navigating around and within campus buildings has to become a major priority for colleges and universities. Improving physical signage matters. So does integrating digital tools that allow students to easily find their way from building to building. Keep in mind construction, accessibility, and the existence of well-lit pathways during evening hours.
8. Align Your Online and In-Person Campus Life Perceptions
The final takeaway revolves around the disconnect between online perceptions and the in-person reality of campus life. Indeed, nearly 63% of respondents felt a disconnect between digital perceptions and real-life experience. This can lead to feelings of disappointment and mismatched expectations.
It’s tempting to attract new students with high-quality representations of campus life. However, such portrayals will only work toward retention and engagement if they are authentic and match the on-ground experience. A high-quality video of a student club may not be as effective as student-generated content from that same club.
The good news is that prioritizing the comprehensiveness and authenticity of your virtual displays of campus life can make a difference. Our survey showed that three-quarters of students believe that better online resources showing genuine campus life could have addressed the disconnect. Authenticity, it turns out, does make a difference.
Building University Student Engagement Strategies to Drive Sustainable Success
Ultimately, there is no single magic bullet to improve college student retention. Instead, it’s about a mix of comprehensive strategies designed to get and keep your students engaged. Those strategies, however, do need to integrate a wide range of digital tools—which is where Concept3D comes in.
Through tools like our interactive map, you can enhance navigation and showcase student life. Calendar integration further enhances that option. You can be both comprehensive and accurate when communicating with your new and current students. Ready to learn more? Contact us today to start a conversation about how Concept3D can help you drive long-term, sustainable student engagement and success.