Why Social Excellence Must Be Taught To College Students

ImageWe know that college students stay in school, graduate, and report higher levels of satisfaction when they have a healthy social support system. College students need interpersonal confidence and skills along with the ability to engage in society, but they often lack practice and experience in this area. Most students arrive at college completely unprepared socially. All the research on student retention and engagement reminds us that students need significant relationships and a connection to their personal purpose to stay (and succeed) in college.  This is why universities all over North America choose The Social Excellence Project to kick off the college experience for their first year students, and as an educational tool to keep their students engaged.

There have been countless academic studies to support the idea that students who are involved with other students and in outside the classroom activities are more likely to persist at the institution, they are more likely to be satisfied with their experience, and they are more likely to graduate.  Additional research supports that a co-curricular experience fosters an environment where students can learn skills not taught in the classroom – skills like critical thinking, citizenship, self-awareness, communication, leadership, and diversity (Center for Measuring College Behaviors and Academics, 2010).  Creating a culture of student involvement, engagement and connection is not only good for the students involved, but good for the institution as well.

When students come to college, whether new or returning, it requires them to navigate a new and unfamiliar environment, interacting with new people – students, faculty, and staff (Kuh & Love 2004).  Assimilating and integrating into this new culture can greatly impact a student’s success.  Their ability to adapt to the social and academic demands will greatly affect a student’s satisfaction, achievement and educational attainment (Pascarella & Terezini 1991).  It becomes necessary for an institution to take a holistic approach to student engagement and involvement, integrating a student into both the social and academic fabric of the university.  It thus becomes a partnership between all campus entities to ensure student success.  Participation and support from faculty and staff is an integral component of the initiative to engage students more holistically in the university environment.

Kuh & Love (2004) argue that students who make connections with people like them (interests, experiences, culture, religion, etc.) are more likely to persist in higher education.  While many of these connections can happen informally, universities can foster opportunities for students to make these connections with like peers through student organizations, activities, and events.

This is more than just an educational dilemma. This is a real financial problem for institutions across North America. We believe that Social Excellence can be an important tool for universities as they find new and innovative ways to keep, engage, and support their students.

There are a total of 4409 four-year colleges and universities within the United States that host over 18 million students, paying $12,000 (public) to $30,000+ (private) per year.  Within this market, very real business problems are encountered by key stakeholders including admissions departments, development offices, student life teams, university presidents and boards, and perhaps most importantly the student herself.

These challenges include:

  1. Attrition – 30% of students leave college by the end of the first year and over 50% of students never graduate.  These numbers represent a multi-million dollar financial loss to institutional budgets.  These financial losses do not account for the number of admitted students that fail to matriculate.

We believe Social Excellence has the ability to connect students to the institution in a meaningful way early in their collegiate experience, thus improving retention.  Because relationships and belonging are key factors in student retention, we believe the relationships built as a result of our support of the university will positively impact retention and graduation rates.

  1. Alumni Engagement and Giving – On average, 12% to 18% of college/university alumni donate back to their alma mater. Alumni giving is a major source of revenue and a critical part of growing institutional budgets.  U.S. Colleges received $28 billion dollars in charitable gifts in 2010.  Endowment sizes range from institution to institution:  some institutions’ endowments have reached levels that more than cover the costs of undergraduate education, while others schools may still be in the infancy of their giving campaigns

We believe Social Excellence can be a vehicle to connect alumni and undergraduates to each other and the institution in a meaningful way that will reengage “lost” alumni donors, elevate giving levels of existing donors, and most importantly build a pool of engaged future donors from within their undergraduate population.

  1. Satisfaction and Engagement – Knowing that there are high attrition and low giving rates at the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities, it’s valuable to understand what makes college students likely to retain at their institution, as well as give after graduation.  Research suggests that a college student’s level of satisfaction with his/her institution is directly related to his/her level of participation and engagement within the institution.  Further evidence shows that people who are more satisfied with their collegiate experience are likely to retain within the institution.  These students are also likely to financially contribute more often and at higher rates back to their institution than their less satisfied (and engaged) counterparts.

We believe Social Excellence could be an integral part to building student participation and engagement within the university landscape, thus contributing to student satisfaction, affinity for the institution, and later financial support.

  1. New Student Marketing – Academic institutions compete against one another for top-tier students.  In recent years we have seen universities investing in not only better academic offerings and prominent faculty, but what we call “student amenities”.  Universities are investing significant dollars into non-academic functions of the university like student housing, athletic programs, technology, intramurals, campus beautification, and hundreds of other tactics that are in large part aimed at recruiting and retaining new students.

We believe Social Excellence, as a defining element of campus culture, is innovative and offers genuine value to the college experience that provides an opportunity for powerful PR, marketing, and most importantly real student development that will give participating universities a competitive advantage.

  1. Student Development – Bluntly, the typical student is socially awkward and ill equipped for the professional world.  Research shows a decline in student connectedness and meaningful relationships at the same time that technology is providing greater access to and a perception of “more” social connections.

We know that students need Social Excellence.

In fact, we know that PEOPLE need Social Excellence (and universities can play an important role in preparing students to excel in post-graduation life by preparing them to be Socially Excellent while in school).

Over the past few years, research has shown that we are becoming painfully bad at socialization.

One study found that 20% of all individuals are, at any given time, unhappy because of social isolation. Americans have 33% fewer friends than they did 30 years ago.

Almost one quarter of smart phone users report using their phone to avoid human contact.

A study of 60,000 business leaders found that less than 5 percent excel at both achieving important results and building social relationships (in other words, only a few people can get stuff done and be kind to others effectively).

A study from 2006 showed that people aren’t connecting in their community, organizations, or in groups as much as they did just two decades before, “The percentage of people who confide only in family increased from 57% to 80%.”

An article in The Atlantic last year summed up this downward social spiral. In it, Emily Esfahani Smith, citing research, wrote, “We volunteer less. We entertain guests at our homes less. We are getting married less. We are having fewer children. And we have fewer and fewer close friends with whom we’d share the intimate details of our lives. We are increasingly denying our social nature, and paying a price for it. Over the same period of time that social isolation has increased, our levels of happiness have gone down, while rates of suicide and depression have multiplied.”

We’re grateful for the universities that have trusted us over the years to help their students choose Social Excellence as a lifestyle.

References:

Center for Measuring College Behaviors and Academics. (2010). University learning outcomes assessment (UNILOA): National report of means 2009-2010.  Terre Haute, IN: Author. Retrieved from http://www.measuringbehaviors.com/NationalNormPublicRelease2010.pdf

Kuh, G. & Love, P. G. (2004). A cultural perspective on student departure.  In J. M. Braxton (Ed.), Reworking the student departure puzzle (pp. 196-212).  Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Pascarella, E.T., & Terenzini, P.T. (1991). How college affects students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.