One of the biggest challenges facing students, as well as faculty and staff of universities, is that we don’t realize all of the opportunities and resources available to us. Students constantly want more services while faculty and staff are constantly baffled on why they aren’t being used. It gets to the point where we are all moving in a circle – students stop looking for resources because they think they don’t exist and universities stop providing them because students aren’t taking advantage of them.

It’s also quite clear that there is a spectrum when it comes to student involvement. On one end you have the student that goes to class and then promptly goes home. They are not involved in any organizations, clubs, sports, or departments on campus. On the other end, you have the students that are involved in multiple organizations who eventually attain leadership positions, get involved with departments on campus, connect with faculty and staff, etc. This spectrum is part of the reason that only a small percentage of resources are used. The students that only come to class and go home don’t make the strong connections that will help them learn of different resource and opportunities on campus. They aren’t as targeted by word of mouth and might not be on campus long enough to read the flyers hanging up and being handed out. According to the Associate of American Colleges & Universities:

 “The vast majority of entering students expect to participate in co-curricular activities, yet almost one-third (32 percent) spent no time in these activities during their first year. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of first year students never used career planning, financial advising, or academic tutoring services.”

Thus, if we are getting close to 50 percent of students not using these resources in their first year they are already becoming dis-engaged. Once they believe there is a pattern of a lack of resources and opportunities they are going to stop looking for them. While you will always have a percentage that is on the extremely involved end of the spectrum those students can’t keep the services running on a large-scale, let alone for an extended period of time. Not only do students lose motivation, so do those putting the activities together. It once again creates a cycle of disappointment that we need to find a way to fix. While there are a lot of diversified factors that influence how involved a student will be we must be able to address their ability to receive information about their opportunities.

The Student Perspective

My Story: The overly involved student smack-down right in-between two groups of friends that truly were split on each end of the spectrum. It became a challenge when I would spend all day in organization meetings, learning about campus and our resources, to come home to another group that had no idea that half of these things even existed. Not only did it take a mental shift it would also take a mental drain. As soon as you are seen as someone who knows what is going on, or at least knows how to get the information, your friends without the resources come to you. While you love to help them out it can become daunting over a five-year period.

However, what it really showed me was just how split these two groups are when it came to access and knowledge. The friends I had on the dis-engaged end of the spectrum had no idea that certain offices even existed, let alone the services they offered to students. When you begin to think that almost 50 percent might never learn about these opportunities it makes you wonder how the over-arching structure of the university is set up that is systematically causing a dis-connect.

I wanted to make a difference for the students that weren’t receiving adequate access – however, I came to this realization too late in my college career. It was very clear that after their first year a majority of my dis-engaged friends had no interest in learning about more opportunities on campus. In their minds it became a mindset of “those aren’t for me because I was never told about them before.” For me, what that mindset eventually caused was that I would stop talking about what was going on throughout campus to them. They weren’t interested in listening and I became less interested in informing them. Thus, once again it led to another cycle of dis-connect and disappointment.

The Staff Perspective

I started as a full-time staff member of a public university of over 45,000 students earlier this year. Although I had worked for the university as a student it took on a completely new perspective. I was now face-first with faculty and staff, for over 40 hours a week, who were trying to create programs for students.

My first intense experience of this dis-connect from the other side was when I was tasked with increasing destination report responses for our arts and sciences majors. Basically, why are students not reporting what they are doing after they graduate. I started to meet with department heads, professors, advisors, and students associated with different majors. What I learned was that no one knew this report existed. Furthermore, I learned that all of a sudden they were really excited that it did exist. However, no one knew how to increase the response rates of students because they didn’t know how to reach them. They didn’t know how to get them to read their e-mails, respond to their messages, or truly get the word in front of them long enough that they would take notice of the value it provides.

That lack of understanding pretty much tied up everything into a pretty bow in my mind. We were stagnant. Stuck. We didn’t have a real route to take and we didn’t have upper-level support to make any long-lasting changes happen. Once I ran into this situation over and over with multiple majors I started to look at how this same process occurred across campus and across universities. We’re at the point where everyone is sending so many e-mails that they don’t work anymore to advertise for an event. We need to figure out how to approach this changing generation in a field that has stayed the same for generations.

What Do We Do Now?

The first thing that we need to do is acknowledge that the educational climate is changing and so are our students. While we could sit here and try to decipher what has gone wrong in the past what we really need to do is figure out what we can do for the future. We don’t want to repeat our mistakes, but we also don’t want to stay stagnant for so long trying to figure them out that we don’t make any progress.

1. As younger generations hit the collegiate age we have to know how to market to them – through social media, direct/to-the-point messages, and something they can share with their friends. We live in an age where if students can’t put it on Instagram or Snapchat they aren’t as excited to attend. If they can’t tweet that they were at an event or used a service they are less motivated. We need to acknowledge that we have to market to them, and do it quickly and effectively. Although “100% of universities’ have a social media presence” the question is if they are using it efficiently.

2. Create a tight-knit connection between departments and their social media use. While we can always re-tweet each other we need to create an intricate web without overwhelming students. If you re-tweet everything you’ll lose followers. Students aren’t look at event calendars anymore across a university – there is too much on it and they don’t see things they are interested in immediately. The old way of announcing events and services isn’t working anymore.

3. We need to get to students earlier – not just with bulletin boards in their residence halls, flyers around campus, or another “campus leader” trying to shove information down their throat. We need to find a way to build more personal connections with students to keep them involved and informed. While this becomes more challenging the larger your institution is I think it is the size that makes this even more important. With more students there is a higher chance that they get lost in crowd. Once they’re lost it’s hard to get them back.

The question that I propose now is how do you think we fix this issue? In a dynamic world we need to listen and learn from each other so that we can help the next generation succeed. Why make their lives harder when it is in our profession that we want to help them? Let’s get the word out about these opportunities so there is less of a reason for the phrase “we don’t know what we don’t know.”

References:

Klamm, Dan. “6 Best Practices for Universities Embracing Social Media.” Mashable. N.p., 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 10 Oct. 2016

Kuh, By: George D. “What Student Engagement Data Tell Us about College Readiness.” Association of American Colleges & Universities. Association of American Colleges & Universities, 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

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