Community is more important for colleges than it ever has been

Permission to re-post granted by author, C.J. Johnson, To Go Events

We hope that you’re reading this from the comfort and safety of your home—these are strange times, friends. We’ve heard from a few college programmers that their budgets are being frozen, or that they’re having to justify virtual programming for their students during this time of displacement, shelter in place and virtual learning. We were surprised to hear this… Social distancing can be isolating and lonely. Isn’t community more important than ever, even though it needs to be virtual?

We know this is a stressful time for you and your students. Certainly, it’s a bizarre situation that we all find ourselves in, but now is NOT the time to act timidly and defensively, it’s time for us to step up as leaders and do just that… lead. It’s our job to lead and advocate for students, to provide services that make them feel included and connected to your campus.

It makes not just common sense, but human sense and business sense.

Top 4 Reasons Virtual Programs Matter
Reason #1: Quality > Quantity
Good programming will engage students and grow a virtual audience, while poor programming will likely make students feel even more isolated and disengaged. If you were to program on campus nothing but a random person from school reading jokes from a joke book, or reciting material they watched on a Netflix special instead of hiring professional comics for your comedy series – it wouldn’t take long for that comedy series to fail and for attendance to drop off completely.

The same, I imagine, goes for virtual programming. While some home-grown interactions are great, in fact necessary, you should still have the flexibility and budget to schedule professional, high-quality speakers, comics, Game Shows (that’s our business and I put us third!), caricature artists, etc., that will impress students enough to keep them coming back.

In the above paragraph I say “I imagine” as I have no proof, just logical sense – this is a new paradigm for all of us – and when we do something new we call on experts in their fields to consult with us. That’s what these professional programs do – the pros do all the heavy lifting and set the stage for success.

Reason #2: Student Activities Fees
On many campuses, students are not having student activities fees refunded to them, so it’s important to give them value for the money they’ve invested in their student activities fees. That seems to be the moral and ethical route to take. They’ve paid for a service. Give it to them and deliver them VALUE for their dollars.

Reason #3: Building Community, Impacting Retention
I think this is the strongest argument for active virtual programming. From a business point of view, virtual programming makes distant students feel more a part of YOUR community and will help in student retention for the fall. I have a programming friend who says “Engaged Students are Retained Students”. And there seems to be research to back this up.

None of us could see this lock down/quarantine happening even at the beginning of this month (March 2020), but now students are dozens if not hundreds of miles away from your campus. It would be easy for them to make the decision to transfer to a college close to home in the fall if they don’t truly feel like they’re a part of your schools’ community. After all, now it’s a reality that they may have to go home mid-semester, why not be close?

Simply do the math. What does it cost to attract a student to your school? What does that student spend on tuition, room, board, books and other fees during their 2-4 year stay? It makes good business sense to engage students and make them feel a part of your community during this time so they RETURN TO CAMPUS in the fall and continue to pay into the school system.

In business, we call this the lifetime value of a customer. Studies show that it’s far less expensive to retain a customer than it is to attract a new one. The same goes for students – who are your institution’s customers.

Some say it costs FIVE TIMES more to attract a new customer than it does to retain one. I’m sure your school’s business office has the numbers on this for you to see and use to defend your budget. (Here are a couple of articles on the matter if you’re interested: Don’t Spend 5 Times More Attracting New Customers, Nurture The Existing Ones and Fiscal Benefits of Student Retention and First-Year Retention Initiatives.)

We here at Game Shows To Go/To Go Events have always viewed campus activities as customer retention. Which is why we go out of our way at every event to promote your programming board and acknowledge that it was their student activities fees that brought us to campus.

Reason #4: Fostering a Sense of Belonging
Community building is part of good mental health for your students.

Right now they need you, the student activities professional more than ever. It’s easy for students to feel distant, isolated and alone when they actually are.

Engaging students virtually helps them feel better mentally and feel like they belong to your group more. After last night’s Trivia Stream Virtual Game Show one student said in the chat room “this game totally made me feel better about being home all day! LOL Game me something to do”.

Because of the unique nature of the show we wrote (I swear I won’t turn this into a sales pitch) we intentionally create community, get students talking about school, showing school spirit and we focus on making your students know they are still a part of the community that is your college. Good programs will do this. It lets your students know that they are STILL YOUR STUDENTS. They’ve been rushed out of dorms, they’ve been separated from their friends, their young lives have been uprooted in ways that are difficult for the older among us to comprehend. It’s important, in fact, it’s critical to make sure your students know they are not forgotten. This is the beauty in your job as a student activities professional (or volunteer).

The above are just a few of the reasons that student programming should continue, budgets should not be cut, and administration should focus on RETENTION of this year’s freshmen coming back to be next year’s Sophomores.

Your institution has spent the money to attract them to campus – it’ll be much more cost-effective to keep these students than to attract new ones.

In closing, continuing to provide a budget for programs makes good business sense, good moral and ethical sense, and good sense as human beings to care for the young people who are counting on college to be a safe and supportive place.

I welcome your comments, thoughts, and additions to help others defend their budgets and continue to program.

Peace.

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