Many large universities do a great job of attracting students and creating a sense of camaraderie around the school’s mission, history, and traditions. Attending a large, well-known school (think Texas A&M, NYU, Penn State, UCLA, etc.) has its advantages, including endless opportunities for involvement, a wide range of majors and academic tracks, huge alumni networks, and a solidified reputation.
The downside is that it’s easy to get lost on a big campus with tens of thousands of students. It can be really difficult for students to feel known and develop a sense of belonging, especially during their freshman year when classes have hundreds of students and professors seem busy and unapproachable. Freshman year sets a precedent for the whole college journey, and that first-year experience has a significant impact on a student’s decision to return the next year.
What’s lacking for a lot of first-year students is access to a solid support network they can turn to so they can get the support they need to succeed.
Students are Getting Lost
Recently, we talked with Dr. Nancy Hutchins who serves at Texas A&M University—one of the most populous universities in the country. At a university that large, every school (business, engineering, architecture, etc.) feels like its own microcosm and it’s challenging for students to develop a sense of belonging even within their own majors.
Nancy explained, “Coming into a large university, it’s very easy to get lost and to not know where to go or who to ask for help… Students learn quickly that it’s a different environment than high school… One of the hardest challenges for students in this transition is being able to ask for help and to know the resources available to even ask for or seek help from.”
Large public universities usually have a large population of continuing-generation students who grew up attending sporting events and even visiting campus with their alumni family members. These students know what to expect. They know how the systems works and how to get involved on campus. If they have questions, they can call up their parents and ask for help. Others don’t have the same luxury.
For many students, especially first-generation, the first time they set foot on campus is move-in day. Moving into a residence hall is a big transition alone. Then, classes start and navigating campus, approaching professors, and connecting with other students can be really intimidating. No one has told them how to “do” college. They could use someone to help guide them, but they don’t know how to find that person.
When a first-generation student walks on a campus crawling with continuing-generation students who seem to know what they’re doing, it’s easy to feel out of place. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind or don’t belong.
“Do Faculty and Staff Actually Care About Me?”
It’s commonly assumed that faculty and professors at large universities are busy—that they don’t have time for questions like, “How does the testing center work?” or “How can I get help with coursework?” Students with little previous faculty interaction worry about approaching faculty, bothering the wrong person, or asking a “stupid” question. It’s common for students to think they’re expected to know the answers and if they don’t, they don’t belong on campus or in college at all.
On large campuses, challenges students face can easily go unnoticed. Take these two students, for example:
Student A: Shows up to class when they’re supposed to, completes assignments on time, and makes good grades. At the same time, they struggle to pay for college and don’t have time for extracurriculars because they head straight to their job after class every day. They’re the first in their family to attend college, so they don’t have the same level of support a continuing-generation student does.
Student B: Goes to class sometimes, doesn’t spend much time on assignments, and performs poorly on tests. Still, Student B is heavily involved on campus and knows the campus well. As a continuing-generation student, they’ve been on campus before and can get advice from their parents whenever they need it.
Both of these students are struggling, just in different ways. On the surface, Student A seems to be doing well while Student B raises some red flags. If professors are going to make an effort to intervene, it’s going to be with Student B. This is who early alert systems will tag. Meanwhile, Student A is still struggling, just not quite so visibly to professors and faculty. Out of the two, Student A is more likely to drop out of school due to financial pressure and a lack of support.
Obviously this is just one example. There are many different and unique circumstances students face, but what’s evident here is the lack of support available to students who struggle in not-so-obvious ways.
Retention suffers when students feel lost on campus and can’t get the support they need. They begin to wonder, “Do professors and faculty actually care about me?”
Students need to know they are not alone in their college journey—that faculty and professors care about them, that no question is stupid, and that they have a place on campus. And this requires faculty and staff to not only to be available for questions, but to proactively build relationships with students to help them develop a sense of belonging and reach their goals.
There’s an Easy Way to Do This—and It Actually Works
Many colleges and universities have made efforts to improve retention over the past few years, even throughout the pandemic, but haven’t had much luck. Getting students to stick around doesn’t happen in an instant, but it can happen if we address the core of why they’re leaving in the first place. Retention hinges on students getting the academic andpersonal support they need to persist and find a place of belonging on a campus where it’s easy to get lost. And that support is possible with EVAN360.
The app allows students to access an entire support network—faculty, administration, professors, peer mentors—all in one place. It’s a non-threatening environment free of confusion around where to go or who to ask. Students are automatically connected to the right person who can help in the moment to get answers right away.
The app creates opportunities for students to make connections with the right people on campus so they have their own support network on hand at any time. If they don’t have support from family and friends or if they have no idea how to navigate the college system, they will now have the confidence to persist and the knowledge of available resources needed to succeed.
There’s no other app like it, so if you want to see how it works, schedule a quick demo here.