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Guest Post: Can Social Media Play A Role in Improving Retention in Higher Education?


We loved Kelly Walsh’s recent post on EmergingEdTech. He graciously allowed us to repost part of it. Read on!

Studies have concluded that social engagement can benefit retention efforts, and schools and teachers are successfully pursuing this tactic with the help of social media applications.

Earlier this year, a student working on her Doctorate in Education reached out to ask for insights into the question of how social media influences retention, which she was pursuing for her thesis. This is a great question, and I immediately started looking for research on this topic on the Web. I came across some interesting publications, and bookmarked them for follow up. This weekend I spent quite a few hours reviewing and building upon this collection of studies and articles and brought many of them together in this post. If you know of other examples of research that supports this assertion, or efforts under way to use social media to enhance retention, I hope you’ll comment and tell other readers about them.

Studies clearly indicate that social engagement enhances retention
The potential for social engagement to play a role in increasing student retention is frequently cited in many scholarly articles and books. A recent Whitepaper on “The Social Side of Student Retention” provides a variety of studies that have found “student-peer culture to be a key predictor in a range of education outcomes including persistence rates, and commitment to the institution.” This article from ACT, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help people achieve education and workplace success, encourages socially inclusive activities to aid in student retention, finding that these can, “… help build academic self-confidence and motivation.”

In his article, “Research and Practice of Student Retention: What Next?,” Vincent Tinto (who is frequently cited as a leading researcher in the field of student retention), notes that “… one fact has remained clear. Involvement, or what is increasingly being referred to as engagement, matters and it matters most during the critical first year of college.”

Here are a number of studies and publications addressing the relationship of social engagement to limiting attrition, several of which contain references to additional publications that focus on the issue:

Can social media/networking deliver the same enhancements in retention?

With all this research indicating that social engagement can play a significant role in retention, it seems pretty straightforward to conclude that the use of social media tools should also play a role in improving retention, since they provide a digital form of social engagement. Just as with the body of research supporting the potential of social involvement to limit attrition, there is a body of research making it quite clear the today’s students and faculty are using social media tools, and academia is increasingly embracing them at a growing rate. If you work in higher education, you know this because you see it every day.

The next step is to seek studies or findings that indicate that social media and social networking tools extend the social engagement findings for retention. Research uncovered a number of publications that support that assertion.

  • In 2011, Baldwin-Wallace College in conjunction with Learning Objects, Inc. won a 2011 IMS GLC Learning Impact Award based on their innovative use of a social media application at the college. According to this press release, “the results of this collaborative effort produced a 15% improvement in retention rates for College 101 students, and greater numbers of College 101 students earning a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Of students participating in the College 101 course, Baldwin-Wallace saw retention rates improve 15%, and over 100 additional students have been retained during the successful 5 year period. By encouraging students to collect thoughts, goals, questions, ideas, to-dos and outcomes related to academic and co-curricular achievements, the B-W Action Plans empower students to better manage their own learning.”
  • The study “Social Media and Retention: The Administrative Perspective at Hispanic-Serving Institutions of Higher Education” by Galindo, Meling, Mundy, & Kupczynski of Texas A&M University-Kingsville (Journal of Studies in Education, 2012, Vol. 2, No. 3), offers the following: “Social Networking Sites (SNS) used for academic purposes have shown positive results as students interact outside of the classroom and therefore these SNSs assist in the learning process and building community (Hung & Yuen, 2010). ‘Blending the real and virtual worlds,’ inside and outside of the classroom has shown to increase peer to peer and academic engagement, especially for first year students” (McCarthy, 2010, p. 738).

Head over to the original post to read about more publications, plus Walsh’s write-up of how schools are leveraging these findings. 

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