Last week, I attended the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference, where I heard the latest on research in improving enrollment, financial aid, and other educational outcomes for at-risk student populations. The overall theme I gathered from the sessions was the importance of student belonging. This was no surprise to me – who doesn’t want a sense of belonging and community?
I learned a lot about student belonging and the positive outcomes associated with it. Here are some of the big-picture takeaways:
A sense of student belonging can decrease dropout rates.
Researchers presented on how academic factors lead to Summer Melt for at-risk students just as much as financial factors. A student’s sense of belonging at a higher education institution plays a large role in whether they stay enrolled. This sense of belonging also impacts students’ reports of satisfaction with their higher education experiences, therefore impacting overall enrollment.
Financial Aid doesn’t have to be so complex.
Researchers found ways to reduce total cost information to a single page or diagram, making financial aid information more accessible. Institutions are most successful when financial aid commitments are paired with individual support for students, so money alone isn’t enough.
Human connection is crucial in creating a sense of belonging.
A sense of belonging and how researchers were able to quantify student’s feelings interested me. I attended a session that broke down experiences for low-income, LGBQ, and racial and ethnic minority students. The research showed that multidimensional support is crucial in creating a sense of belonging for students and supporting their retention. One study used learning communities to promote relationships with staff, which increased students’ sense of “mattering.” Finally, another research effort found that LGBQ students reported a stronger sense of belonging when they interacted with faculty.
Cultural relevance is important to communities that have large immigrant populations.
One session focused on literacy education in communities with large immigrant populations in the US. Findings showed that parents’ involvement by school personnel were different from parents’ perceptions of their involvement in their children’s education. Researchers found that parents hoped to be engaged in ways that allowed them to navigate other commitments. These included traveling to their home countries, not overlooking cultural events, and scheduling parent-focused events around multiple jobs. This approach promotes learning for children by engaging them in activities that are culturally relevant to them and their families.
I’m excited to use the things I learned to support customers in their day-to-day interactions with students and parents. These sessions also reinforced for me that texting is a great tool for organizations looking to engage with students or parents to improve outcomes.