Student engagement is, in many ways, the key to a successful university. Even the best recruitment efforts matter little without those students actively participating in academic and campus life. But that, in turn, requires understanding how to measure student engagement.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the average retention rate for postsecondary institutions across the United States was 67.% in 2021. That represents a slight increase from previous years. But it still means that one-third of the average student body leaves school before the beginning of their second year.

Those numbers are a major reason why strategies for how to increase student engagement have become increasingly ubiquitous at colleges and universities of all types. But that effort has to begin with a comprehensive effort on how to measure student engagement first. 

With the right metrics in place, your institution can establish a framework to gather and assess engagement. That information, in turn, can be used as benchmarks and guideposts for strategies specifically designed to improve engagement (and, as a result, student retention and success) over time.

1. Regularly Survey Your Current Students

Most institutions begin their efforts on how to measure student engagement with a simple and intuitive step: they ask them. Student surveys are a core part of the equation, and they can come in one of two shapes:

  1. Internal surveys, designed by the institutional research office or individual units such as Student Affairs. Ask questions related to favorite extracurricular activities, frequency of event attendance, and more.
  2. Participation in national surveys, like the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). This benchmarks student engagement for hundreds of institutions against each other.

The key to these surveys is consistency. Asking the same questions at regular intervals allows you to measure engagement. You can also understand which efforts regarding how to increase student engagement are making an impact over time.

2. Coordinate With Professors in Core Classes

Institutions looking to define how to measure student engagement also turn to another frequent, though largely qualitative, source of information: the professors of the classes most students attend. Most likely, these are classes within the core or liberal studies curriculum that are required for all students. You can even prioritize more defined courses like freshman seminars.

Professors in these classes tend to have a good overview of their students’ engagement levels. Especially at smaller institutions, they can answer questions on:

  • Average attendance
  • Attentiveness
  • The engaging nature of their classroom

A coordinated effort to work with professors on reporting these trends can help with initial efforts on how to measure student engagement.

3. Measure Class Attendance

Measuring class attendance is a more formal way to estimate your students’ engagement in core academic activities. However, it can also be immensely time-consuming.

Unless you use a dedicated software or ID tracking system, it likely requires professors to track attendance for every session and enter that data into a centralized database. That allows your research or administrative staff to run comprehensive reporting on:

  • Which classes tend to be attended well
  • Which class times result in greater engagement
  • How attendance changes from lower-level to upper-level classes
  • And more

Measuring class attendance has become an increasingly popular option for how to measure student engagement because technology has begun to simplify the process. Options like scanned QR codes or student IDs and even fingerprint and facial recognition software have made it simpler for professors to record and track attendance without taking up significant time.

4. Track Engagement in Your Learning Management System

Online classes have long suffered from engagement issues, especially when that online class is in an asynchronous format. When students are on their own time, it can be difficult to engage them in class materials, whether text or video. In fact, a 2022 study found that while students in online classes were more likely to attend the class, they became less likely to engage with professors and peers. 

That’s what makes this such a great opportunity when looking for how to measure student engagement. Online classes tend to be managed through a central learning management system (LMS). Platforms like D2L Brightspace and Google Classroom are among the leading options. 

These systems aim to simplify the process on the front end. But their back end can be just as valuable for the institution.

Within that backend, you can find valuable analytics. This information can go a long way toward your strategy on how to measure student engagement. It includes basic information like failed or skipped tests. But it also gives insight into the number of logins, message board contributions, and more for individual students. Those insights, in turn, can help you determine how your active students as a whole are engaging with the course material—and each other.

5. Track Campus Event Attendance

Beyond the classroom, student engagement becomes an especially important metric in participation within your campus community. According to a few recent studies:

  • Hartford Community College students who attend events became more than 50% more likely to make it to the next academic year.
  • Arkansas Tech University Students who volunteered for at least one hour in their first year improved their retention rate by 22%.
  • Valdosta University students attending ten or more events in a given semester became 13% more likely to persist through the next semester.
  • Ohio State undergraduate students who were more involved in campus activities became nearly 2x more likely to be satisfied with their student experience.

But it’s not just about hosting events and hoping your students will attend. Instead, it’s about tracking that attendance to learn more about the types of events most likely for students to attend and measuring student engagement as a whole through event attendance.

Fortunately, and much like tracking class attendance, technology has also simplified this process. Most commonly, Student ID scanners at the event entrance can help individual student and campus organizations keep track of attendance while also helping the larger institution track overarching student engagement.

6. Monitor Campus Traffic to Non-Class Venues

College students engaged in campus life outside of required classes

A more inexact but still valuable effort to measure student engagement is to measure the traffic on campus. More specifically, measure the traffic to and from areas that aren’t required for students to attend. That way, you can measure not just scheduled student events but also the everyday engagement that may consist of going to lunch together or simply meeting up in the student lounge.

Every campus has a few key passageways, likely including a trek from the residence halls to the main classroom buildings. Naturally, these walkways will be busy during school hours. But it’s the walkways to and from other areas, like to and from the dining areas or the student center, that can truly help you understand and track your student engagement.

Most commonly, that includes working with your campus safety or police office to leverage their traffic cameras. From there, you can outline which areas may be most insightful in estimating student traffic. Then track exactly what traffic to and from that area looks like at both common and off hours for your students. 

7. Track Use Metrics for Your Map Tools

Finally, don’t underestimate the potential power of measuring student engagement through the digital tools you might use to help your students navigate their day-to-day campus experience. We’ve already mentioned the learning management system as a potential opportunity to do just that. Done the right way, tracking use metrics on your interactive campus map can accomplish just as much.

Think about it: A great digital campus map becomes a core campus wayfinding tool. Students will use it to find their way to and from class, to and from events, and more. It becomes a central part of how students move around campus, especially if you actively use your interactive map to promote individual events.

That, in turn, makes its use of metrics a central piece of the student engagement puzzle. The more students use it, and the longer they stick with it, the more likely they are to move around campus. Over time, you can analyze usage trends and behaviors. These insights might give you further insights into how your students navigate campus.

How to Increase Student Engagement With the Right Digital Tools

Ultimately, measuring student engagement can never be comprehensive with just a single tool. Student surveys, class and event attendance tracking, campus traffic, and digital use metrics can all play a core role in understanding exactly how much, where, and how your students engage with both your academic and extracurricular activities.

That knowledge, in turn, can lead to a more comprehensive strategy to increase your student engagement. Through that, you can also measure retention and persistence. With the right digital tools, you can maximize your insights. Then turn those insights into actions that benefit your students and make them more likely to succeed.

Your interactive map is only a part of the equation. But with the right analytics, it can still help. Learn more about Concept3D and how our clients use it as a central student engagement tool.