Can Social Networking in College Prevent Dropouts?

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Flickr: Helga Webber

The vast majority of college students -- 60% to 84% -- will never participate in a school-sponsored activity, according to the National Survey on Student Engagement. This lack of engagement is cause for concern, and not simply because the NSSE score helps prospective students identify colleges with good campus environments.

The low scores mean students are missing out on the wealth of learning opportunities that occur outside the classroom. And they indicate that students aren't feeling connected or supported -- socially and intellectually -- by their schools, something that's linked in turn to high dropout rates, which currently hover around 30% for students in their first year of college.

The promise of social networking as a connection-builder might help schools foster better community. That's easier said than done, and launching a Facebook page or a Twitter account for your Admissions Office isn't likely to go very far in helping promote student engagement or keep students in school through graduation.

Even if you do create a vibrant online community through social media -- a lively blog with a lot of community engagement, for example, or a popular Facebook page -- how does that translate into offline engagement? How do students find the resources and activities they need both on- and offline?

A New York-based company called Red Rover is building what it describes as the equivalent of an online student union, if you will, that helps students better connect to campus activities and build relationships with one another -- what they say are keys to improved student engagement.


Red Rover's Tom Krieglstein described the company's plans to help build a better campus directory, one that isn't simply a giant phonebook with names and majors; rather, it's a social network that bridges students' academic and personal worlds. Red Rover's goal is to create a directory that encourages students to fill out a more robust entry, one that includes their interests as well as links to their other online profiles.

Ideally, the new directory leads students to easily find content, people, and activities on campus that interests them. It also helps schools deliver relevant information to the student body, with more granular and targeted control. The directory also helps schools have a better understanding of students' engagement, making it more easy to identify those who aren't involved.