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Students connect through social media project

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​A new project is exploring the potential role of social media in community college student engagement and retention.

This fall, eight community colleges have created online communities with Schools App, a Facebook application that connects students with their peers and with specific information about campus programs and services.

The project, called Getting Connected: Harnessing the Power of Social Media Technology to Enhance Community College Student Success, is overseen by the League for Innovation in the Community College and researchers from the University of Arizona and Claremont Graduate University.

The eight colleges selected to participate are Cuyahoga Community College (Ohio), Laramie County Community College (Wyoming), Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (California), Maricopa Community College (Arizona), NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Onondaga Community College (New York), San Jacinto College District (Texas) and Western Technical College (Wisconsin). Also part of the project are Schools App developers at Inigral, Inc. The three-year project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A campus connection

Research shows that personal attachment and engagement positively affect degree persistence, said Regina Deil-Amen, associate professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. Many community colleges, however, are commuter colleges, and on-campus time is limited.

“One of the big challenges for any commuting student is that they don’t have a real campus life to create a sense of belonging and connection,” Deil-Amen said.

The use of social media is growing on campuses, but its effects are understudied.

“We know students are using it, we just don’t know how they’re using it,” explained Cecilia Rios Aguilar, associate professor at the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Colleges participating in Getting Connected will use Schools App differently, depending on the needs of their student populations. While one college creates a virtual space for student veterans to connect, another will use the application to provide online support and information for students in developmental education courses. Yet another college will use the application to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’re not dictating what institutes do,” Aguilar said. “Colleges know best what their primary need is.”

The application will allow researchers like Deil-Amen and Aguilar to observe students as they interact with their peers and others in online communities, and study how such interactions might tie to retention and completion.

The collaboration is the “perfect marriage” between institutions and researchers, and a great opportunity to improve student success, Aguilar said.

“With the national focus on completion, the results of this study will be of particular interest to postsecondary educators as they work to ensure their students’ academic and career success,” Gerardo de los Santos, president and CEO of the League, said in a statement.