How Your School’s Online Presence Impacts Retention

02 Aug 2012 from .eduguru

written by Mykel Nahorniak

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Retention, it’s that all-important concept that college administrators have buzzing in their ears. When it comes down to it, you want to recruit a great class of first-year students and keep them. Easier said than done. The summer between the first and second college years has been shown to be the time when students are most likely to depart and not return. If you spend time and resources to improve and grow your online presence, you will be rewarded with happy students who want to stay.

Since the satisfaction of first-year students is crucial to increasing retention, we’ll be focusing on the newbies on campus in this post.

Students and Colleges Online

Millennial college students are the most plugged in group to walk through the campus gates. Colleges are already doing a great job of recognizing the digital focus of their students by developing social media presences.

A quick benchmark—in a 2010-2011 study on college social media use, 100% of colleges surveyed were using at least one type of social media. College usage data shows:

  • 98% used Facebook
  • 86% posted videos on YouTube
  • 84% tweeted
  • 66% posted blogs
  • 41% put out podcasts

It may be surprising, but this social media presence only recently began to skyrocket. In the previous year, 87% of colleges were using Facebook. Twitter was at 59% and Podcasts at 22%.

Given the recent nature of this surge in college social media use, scholars haven’t had time to conduct many big studies on its direct impact on retention. However, we can look at what has been proven to increase retention and make connections to online activities that support these tactics. Note: For this post, we used the ACT’s “Review of Retention Literature.”

Retention Tactic #1: First-year academic support

The transition to college can put a strain on even the most well-prepared first-year students. They are going to need some help adjusting to the new rigors of their courses and controlling the temptation to hit up all the campus parties. Being the internet fiends that they are, students are going to seek out help and information online.

Meet this need by using your online presence to connect new students with the right offices on campus. Advising offices can offer online appointments, blog posts on studying smarter, and video screencast tutorials on how to use the course enrollment software. Perhaps have a student live tweet events so that those who can’t make it can follow along from their dorms or the quad. Simply providing this information online will give students what they need (and want) in a way that’s easy to access and quick to learn. They’ll feel like you read their minds.

Retention Tactic #2: Aiding the development of social networks

Students are happiest when they find a tight-knit group of friends on campus. During the first year, you can help facilitate those awkward but necessary name-major-hometown introductions that can lead to life-long friendships, or at least someone to have lunch with tomorrow.

Using an online social calendar for your college’s events will provide a way for students to see not only the myriad of event offerings, but also if that girl Becky from Seattle they met in English class will be there. By hooking into their favorite social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, the online calendar will make it easy for students to invite their new friends and see who’s attending each event. Plus, the social component allows for conversations about campus happenings. They’ll feel like they’re a part of a thriving community, and “bored” will leave their vocabularies.

Retention Tactic #3: Orientation to campus and resources

It sounds basic, but enrolled students who receive campus tours and orientations to available services are more likely to stick around after their first year. While the traditional student-led tour can be a good start, they’re not personalized and with the wrong tour guide they can be a bit dull. Give students a little choose-your-own-adventure flair with a FourSquare-powered campus tour. We grabbed that idea from our new customer, the University of Oregon, who made’s list of the Top 100 Social Media Colleges for their FourSquare self-guided tour.

Retention Tactic #4: Involvement in the institution

Organizational theory retention strategies focus on getting students involved in the college’s decision-making processes. Student governments traditionally take on this role, but students who understand their school’s mission, values, goals, and policies are more likely to feel integrated into the community. Cater to this generation by offering online forums for students to voice concerns about policies or running student elections online.

In the end, using online media to retain students is all about showing your students that you want to engage with them online. Create an online presence that reflects the campus community and connects students with each other and everything your school has to offer. They’ll feel supported and will know where to go when they need an answer, some help, or of course, fun! The goal is for students to feel balanced, supported but challenged, exploring their newfound independence. That’s the happy college feeling that will keep them around for three more years.

Want to learn more about engaging students online with a social calendar? Check out our eBook, “Why Your Online Calendar Should Be Social.”

Photo Credit: Building Freedom by HJ Media Studios


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