By: Del Suggs, M.S.Ed. | Article from 2022 Summer CLT Magazine

We talk constantly about student engagement in Higher Ed. Why is engagement considered so important? It’s because engagement demonstrates an active involvement in learning. Students who are engaged are taking a proactive approach to their education. They are more focused on the learning that is taking place.

There has been a massive amount of research done over the last thirty-five years about the impact of engagement on student attrition. Without exception, the studies have all shown that engagement increases retention dramatically. Engagement is basically the difference between a student graduating and dropping out of college. It’s that important.

Thanks to the ongoing research by the National Survey on Student Engagement at Indiana University, we have years of evidence about the value of engagement. In 2008, Dr. George Kuh published High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Dr. Kuh lists the ten most valuable engagement practices.

The ten High Impact Practices defined by Dr. Kuh are primarily based on the classroom experience, and not the co-curricular world of Student Affairs. And yet, several of the HIPs can well be attained with students working in student activities and student development.

The 10 High Impact Practices:

1. First-Year Experience or First-Year Seminars

2. Writing-intensive courses

3. Diversity/Global Learning

4. Common intellectual experience (core curriculum)

5. Undergraduate research

6. Capstone courses and projects

None of these lend themselves to the student life office, at least not in an obvious manner. However, the last few do reach out for inclusion in the student development curriculum.

7. Internships: Given the high impact of internships, these should be considered for students working with the student activities board.

8. Collaborative Assignments and projects:  Students working closely on important projects and events are the essence of an effective student activities board. These activities should clearly be transferable.

9. Learning Communities: While not a direct comparison to the living-learning communities that are a part of residence life at many colleges, the collaboration that is involved between members of the student activities board is clearly an apt comparison.

10. Service Learning: Given the emphasis on community service at most campuses, this HIP is certainly one of the simplest examples of engagement in student activities.

By offering as many of the HIP elements as possible, the student activities office can be a strong force in student engagement.

Organization Involvement

Campus organizations have been devastated the last two years by the pandemic. On some campuses, clubs have been unable to meet except virtually. It can be challenging to recruit new members during typical years, but recruitment via Zoom and other virtual platforms is even more difficult. Yet we know how important these student groups are in creating engagement.

Communities of practice, organizations, and clubs on campus are a powerful force for engagement. We should be working to increase the number of students involved with these groups, and provide high levels of support to ensure their success.

Ideas to Increase Campus Engagement

1. Have an Activities / Involvement / Club Fair at the very beginning of each term. At these events, clubs can inform students about their activities and goals, and recruit new members. Make sure your Club Fair is held during the first week of class, before students fall into that rut of parking lot-classroom-parking lot.

2. Increase the number of clubs and organizations on campus by providing support and guidance. Foster a nurturing environment for new clubs to flourish. Reach out to students with ideas. For example, is there an interest in writing? Create a Creative Writing Club. Online gaming? Anime?

3. Provide and require officer training for students to assure that clubs function effectively.  Also provide Advisor training, as effective advisors are essential to a campus organization survival. It can be frustrating for students to try and serve as officers if they don’t know how. Provide them with training so that they can fulfill their roles effectively.

4. Recognize and value involvement. Create awards and prizes for active and successful involvement. I’ve created a list of possible awards for your campus leaders and organizations. If you’re interested, please email me and I’ll send it along.

5. Promote a co-curricular transcript. While this listing of student involvement has become more popular with every year, it is still uncommon. It provides strong encouragement to be involved on campus, and is a valuable marketing resource for job-seekers. We all know that engagement creates a more enhanced student, and a student with better social skills. The responsibility demonstrated by engaged students carries a lot or weight with perspective employers.

Increasing Campus Involvement

Getting students to attend and engage in activities and events is a struggle at nearly every college. While Campus Activities Boards work to increase attendance, there are multiple ways to get more students active and involved.

1. More, smaller events. Many schools are locked in the practice of presenting large events such as concerts and festivals. Perhaps a more effective way to reach more students is to present multiple smaller events. By offering smaller programs at various times and locations, the SAB has the ability to reach more students.

2. Targeted audiences. Presenting multiple programs enables the student activities office to reach more specific audiences, such as non-traditional students, returning students, families, first-generation students, and more.

3. More interactive events. While continuing the traditional student activities offerings, perhaps SABs should also present more interactive programs. Try adding more karaoke, open mics and poetry jams to your schedule.

4. Support for Residence Life programs. As students in residence halls have the opportunity of pursue more of the High-impact Practices, the student life office should be supportive of these programs.

5. More learning-based programs and events. There are many opportunities for student activities offices to present entertaining educational programs.There are a vast number of entertaining speakers, films, comedians, spoken word artists and more. Student activities can truly be co-curricular.

6. Create student learning outcomes for all programs and events. It isn’t difficult to demonstrate the contribution of activities and programs to the educational mission of the campus.

7. Create a culture of engagement. Requiring ID card swipes to attend events is not unusual. Take it a step further and have students respond to assessment surveys when they attend events. Recruiting champions to make assessment the norm and providing positive reinforcement (rewards) can all generate a culture of engagement.

8. Embrace your role as an educator on campus. Remember “Learning Reconsidered” and understand that your contribution to student development is vital.  Don’t neglect your job as a teacher.

Never Forget

Student engagement has been shown as the key to retention. There is powerful evidence that engagement results in higher grades and increased graduation rates. This is really the definition of Student Success. Get your students engaged, and watch them soar.

Copyright by Del Suggs, M.S.Ed. All rights reserved.