Schools, a Facebook application from Inigral, was first featured on Inside Higher Ed in the summer of 2008. The Schools app leverages the relationship and engagement dynamics of Facebook to enhance student enrollment and retention. A Preferred Developer Consultant on Facebook, Inigral is the only higher education focused company with that designation. There are currently 11 schools that use the Schools app and they include a wide range of institutions, from large 4 year publics to smaller private schools. Schools is unique in that it creates a community within a community. Institutions that use the application use Facebook as a way to get students virtually talking and connecting before they are even on campus.
It was announced last week that Inigral had received a $2 million investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Part of this funding includes a grant partner program [pdf]. Five institutions will be awarded the chance to adopt the Schools app for free for two years.
There is still a major debate as to the efficacy of social media tools and engagement. The fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made such a major investment shows a high level of confidence for using social media engagement as a way to increase enrollment and foster student retention.
Another company that is using social media as a platform for student engagement is the New York-based Red Rover. Unlike Inigral which focuses primarily on Facebook, Red Rover taps into several social media channels with its proprietary platform. A prevalent theme for 2011 is how higher education can capitalize on social media as a way to create relationships that enhance student retention and engagement.
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