Retention and persistence have become core priorities across colleges and universities. But they’re impossible to achieve without a strategy to drive student engagement in higher education.
Of course, any question on how to increase student engagement has to begin with strategies designed to measure that student engagement. However, once that benchmark is established, intentional efforts to drive engagement can link directly to an increased retention and persistence rate.
Make no mistake: engaging your students remains an ongoing concern. According to a 2021 study, only 46% of students feel engaged at their current institution. That’s a drop from 65% prior to the pandemic. That might be a major reason why, despite slight recent increases, an average of one-third of your student body won’t make it from their first to their second year.
Counteracting that trend requires a comprehensive and complex strategy. These eight strategies can help you boost your student engagement in higher education.
1. Start Engagement Efforts as Early as Possible
Studies consistently show that students who engage with their campus community from the moment they step onto campus become more engaged. As a result, they are more likely to remain students and graduate on time. That, in turn, provides a perfect opportunity to build and improve your student engagement in higher education.
Consider move-in day as your first major opportunity to build that engagement. In isolation, it is a stressful event that focuses mainly on logistics. But when planned correctly, it can become an invaluable opportunity for students to:
- Learn about helpful resources
- Begin to integrate into the campus community
It doesn’t end with move-in day, either. Following up with both students and parents after they move in can be just as vital in building that community feeling. The earlier you start prioritizing student engagement, the more likely you’ll be to succeed.
2. Prioritize Your Digital Events Calendar
On the most basic level, student engagement in higher education begins with awareness. If your students don’t know about the types of engagement opportunities available to them, they won’t be able to participate. A comprehensive strategy to communicate those opportunities to your students is essential. That strategy begins with your digital events calendar.
University campus events are nothing if not complex. After all, they’re hosted by any number of academic departments, student affairs offices, student organizations, and more. The right events calendar can help you centralize all of those happenings. It acts as a single resource so your students know where to find their interests and begin to engage.
To get there, the experience will need to be as user-friendly as it is seamless. It should be easy to both enter events and view opportunities while integrating naturally into your online presence. But once you get there, your digital event calendar can become a core student engagement resource for your university.
3. Make Engagement Opportunities Easy and Obvious
Beyond raising awareness of your student engagement efforts, the events and opportunities themselves also need to be easy for students to participate in. You can accomplish that goal through a few core steps:
- Offer a wide range of engagement opportunities, from academic to extracurricular, and within a broad range of interests.
- Align your engagement opportunities closely with your students’ curriculum. A fun trip as part of a freshman seminar, for example, can naturally build opportunities into your students’ academic life.
- Make sure your engagement opportunities are accessible to all students. For example, consider a digital mapping solution that highlights and supports accessibility for your physical spaces.
- Raise awareness of any event not just among your students but among the faculty and staff they might talk to. The more students can hear about them from different angles, the better.
Of course, these are just a few of the many steps you can take in this regard. Keep the focus on removing as many hurdles as you can for any type of student engagement opportunity.
4. Allocate Resources to Your Student Engagement Efforts
Higher education budgets are tight, and leaders across campuses are looking for opportunities to save funds. Still, to truly be successful, student engagement efforts have to be an institutional priority—and that means allocating an appropriate amount of resources to them.
To be clear, these resources don’t necessarily need to be financial. Even personnel hours related to tracking engagement, planning engagement, and some of the support mechanisms mentioned below can be invaluable. The key is making sure that any theoretical effort to build your engagement levels is supported by the real-life resources needed to help your students succeed.
5. Create an Engagement Intervention Mechanism
If you take the above steps, a significant chunk of your student body will likely begin to engage with the opportunities you’ve built. But that won’t apply to nearly everyone. Unfortunately, you can only achieve successful student engagement in higher education when you also get audiences on board that don’t seek out these opportunities on their own.
The key to success, in that case, is becoming more proactive. For example, you might be able to track your students’ attendance at events. If you can identify students who haven’t shown up to any of their events or haven’t even scanned their student ID to get in and out of residence halls, there might be an opportunity to reach out to them.
Ideally, this process works as a somewhat structured mechanism. If your student information system can track metrics like the above, you can create automated reports when students don’t take actions that would suggest even a moderate level of engagement. Those reports, in turn, can prompt proactive outreach by relevant staff.
6. Coach Your Students to Long-Term Success
Another key piece to student engagement in higher education goes beyond in-the-moment events or even more proactive engagements. Instead, it includes a comprehensive plan to coach your students to success, from the first time they step on campus all the way until graduation.
The concept of career and life design has made its way around campus in recent years, and for good reason. It refers to a more holistic approach to the traditional career center, with professionals coaching students for all aspects of success after college.
When you can show how this type of engagement can help your students in their academic and professional careers, this type of approach can become a key engagement mechanism. Simply put, students who want to become more successful professionals will become more likely to engage with the services available to them.
7. Individualize Your Support Services
No two students are created equal. So it stands to reason that a single strategy to engage all of your students is unlikely to succeed. However, any question about how to increase student engagement will need to be answered with a more nuanced, individualized support strategy.
Some of the abovementioned tactics, like individualized outreach, can help you get there. But it can also go beyond those efforts, with programs like:
- Tutoring services in difficult core classes
- College transition courses for first-generation students
- And more
The best way to start in this effort includes analyzing your engagement statistics to understand what common features and characteristics your low-engagement students share. From there, you can build more custom support services for the groups in most need of help as they navigate their college journey.
8. Leverage Technology Strategically
Finally, as evidenced by the multiple strategies above, successful student engagement in higher education must include at least some technology input. The right solutions can help you measure your efforts. Then, you can build more natural, streamlined ways to reach out to and engage with your students.
But that doesn’t mean technology solves all of your engagement efforts. Instead, regardless of the individual solution, it’s best used as a tool to help you implement the strategies you’ve determined to focus on. Approaching the concept that way also helps to ensure that you don’t oversaturate both your support staff and your students with technology, which can actually make them less likely to engage.
Boost Student Engagement in Higher Education With the Right Digital Tools
Having a plan for how to increase student engagement can go a long way toward building a more successful student body that retains at higher levels and ultimately becomes more likely to graduate. Those efforts must be cross-functional across campus. Units like academic affairs, student affairs, and more must all work together toward a common goal.
Still, you also need the right tools in place. As mentioned above, platforms like your events calendar and digital map may “only” be tactical tools to help you accomplish larger goals. Still, they can be invaluable in achieving those goals when you implement them the right way and maximize their use with students.
As a trusted partner for higher education industries, Concept3D has used tools like digital maps, virtual tours, and event calendars to help institutions of all sizes engage their student body and improve their communications. Ready to learn more? Contact us today to learn about our services and how you can work with us on increasing your student engagement.