Using Data to Inform Campus Programming & Events

Data and analytics are revolutionizing the way colleges and universities make decisions around budgeting, campus events, and allocating resources to specific departments.

With new advances surrounding student involvement data, why do institutions struggle to make informed decisions to move the dial on issues surrounding retention?

We want to highlight a study organized by Chickering and Reisser (1993) using the Student Development & Lifestyle Inventory (SDTLI) to determine the most important factors of involvement when it comes to retaining students at institutions. Their findings indicate that uninvolved first-year students who took the SDTLI at a mid-sized public university consistently reported lower developmental scores, meaning, they’re at a higher risk of withdrawing from the institution if they’re not involved. A study conducted by Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) noted that extracurricular involvement in college positively impacts educational attainment with first-year students, not pertaining to a specific institutional type. In reviewing both documents, we noticed there hasn’t been significant research on how a student’s development is impacted whether they are involved with an organization’s events, an active member, or hold a leadership position.

We do know that if a student is involved with two or more organizations, they’re more likely to persist at an institution. It’s important for institutions to collect involvement data to maintain a firm grasp on engagement and, one day, fully understand how a student’s involvement level within an organization aids in their sense of belonging to a community.

With updated technology, we provide student organization advisors and student leaders the power to make decisions weekly, monthly and semesterly to increase student involvement and retention efforts profoundly.

We hope these suggestions surrounding data and sharing feedback helps to inform student organization practices this upcoming academic year.

Using Data to De-Bunk 

Institutions have mountains of data often with no one currently assessing it, therefore, not changing institutional behavior founded in wisdom gained from interpreting it.

Data provides institutions with the impetus to move forward to make informed decisions surrounding student involvement. Institutions that are data-informed take the steps to analyze data and expand their awareness of involvement challenges they may be facing.

Data is a great tool to be transparent about the state of involvement and de-mystify why there specific groups of students involved and uninvolved on campus. It gives administrators and professionals on the front line a reason to reach out, offer support, in addition to understanding what types of events and programs attract students.

Some student affairs professionals have ‘inklings’ that a certain student population is left out or not engaged as much. Real-time analytics on student demographics at events and programs lets us know if we’ve reached our target audience(s) in a few ways.

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For example, a Student Activities office notices that they’re not engaging students who have diverse gender identities and only attracting one type of gender. They can create hypotheses around data and experiment with different ways to market and do specific outreach to groups of students who appear uninvolved with campus events. Gender and gender identity is just one of the many attributes an institution can choose to track with our platform.

Presence’s  real-time data analytics provides a place where a user can see user-friendly charts and graphs to help illustrate important involvement data that is most helpful to student organization advisors and student leader executive board members.

Start With Problems, Not Ideas

It’s not simply enough to collect data, but correlate and interpret findings to identify the best solutions.

Visualizing data analytics and interpreting inconsistencies allows us to identify problems in student involvement patterns and allowing those to inform solutions.

We have the ability to use programming as a tool (i.e. semesterly programming models) to address problems students have: whether it be to strengthen their sense of belonging or creating new learning outcomes based on their needs.

I was an organization advisor in the past and although we thought of some of the brightest ideas for programming, they weren’t solving student needs.

Some the reasoning for specific programs didn’t match up to our students’ goals when it came to involvement.

At weekly meetings, I used to hear:

“We saw this awesome program on Pinterest!”

“We did this last year and it worked…”

Instead, we need to ask questions similar to:

Does the program actually solve the needs that our students have?

How we create meaningful learning outcomes that align with our involvement strategy to engage more students?

How do we actually improve and assess events to get the results we’re looking for?

Let’s broaden our mindset to:

What do students actually need?

What are students trying to learn?

What types of skills do they feel they lack?

Analyze Data for Future Programming

To be truly strategic in planning programs and events for organizations, campuses need to establish a system for data collection, reporting, and informed decision-making.

Identifying trends over time helps to predict what is needed for future programming. Anecdotal qualitative data allows for rich stories backed with quantitative data collected in order to provide organizations with a clear picture.

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Data analytics shows us factors we haven’t necessarily considered or have been able to track in the past.

For example:

You’re an organization advisor and your group hosts a weekly spoken word poetry night at a local coffee shop located close to off-campus student living communities. Sophomores and juniors are your main target audience. You notice every so often attendance plummets and will skyrocket again.

Later, you check to see who attended the event and start to hypothesize why the attendees aren’t consistent. You notice a high concentration of mechanical engineering students attend every other week and are able to track down that they most of them share a bi-weekly night course schedule. With data analytics, you decide to start looking at more challenges involvement trends.

You decide to review data with student leaders because this allows for more transparency and more answers as to why students may not be involved. We know the largest source of influence on a student’s academic and personal development in college is directly impacted from their peer group (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).

Responsibility often ends up being on one student leader or the organization advisor to keep track of members, which can be incredibly time-consuming. Real-time analytics tracks members, events, student demographic attributes in one solution, making assessment a less daunting and manageable task.

Update Inclusion Strategies

Feelings of loneliness, barriers to involvement, and lack of up-to-date marketing for campus events and programs are some of the biggest issues campus involvement organizers face when programming for students.

It’s student activities professionals and organization advisors responsibility to use assessment to understand how we’re consciously or unconsciously including student groups. Organizations need to build experiences that matter to all students, not just the specific students invited or the students who are easiest to communicate with.

Weaving inclusion practices into student involvement goes hand-in-hand with expanding diverse efforts because you can’t include who you don’t have showing up to campus events.

Learn from Successes & Failures

It can be scary to start something like this, yet organizations and clubs need an accurate representation of what’s going on with students and their involvement history.

What if we could determine how to make a student feel more included who is working 3 jobs trying to pay for college and can’t make it to campus? How could we offer support and change our involvement efforts?

It can also be intimidating to know that years of strategies that we thought worked, may not actually work. We need to be measuring how we impact student success, retention, and their overall experience while enrolled.

If we share data that tells us we’re not doing a great job, the positive effects of far outweigh continuing to go down a declining path of creating an environment of exclusion, rather than inclusion.

Share Findings Publicly

We need to share this type of data publicly with both staff and students, whether it’s negative, positive, or we’re not entirely sure what it means yet.

Sharing drives transparency, and transparency drives action, particularly in large organizations where miscommunication is prone to happen often.

Your Thoughts!

How do you use assessment practices to drive transparency and decision-making around student programming and events?

What other pieces of data do you collect when it comes to informing practices with students?

Tweet us your thoughts @CheckImHere! Thanks for reading.

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Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.

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