The summer Student Voice survey of 3,000 two- and four-year students on the college experience found that nearly one in three students spends no time weekly on extracurriculars and campus events. The survey further revealed inequities in levels of student involvement, with institution type and factors such as race, gender, financial aid status and first-generation student status all appearing to impact participation levels.
This has implications for student success, with involvement being positively linked to student performance and overall thriving. And in era when many young adults are feeling adrift and isolated, involvement may promote well-being. Indeed, Student Voice respondents across subgroups and institution types overwhelmingly say that when they participate in campus life, they do so primarily for social connection.
Now a new flash Student Voice survey on campus involvement from Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, with responses from 1,250 students at 60 institutions, provides additional insight into who is engaging in campus life and by how much—as well as students’ satisfaction levels with their involvement and what might encourage nonparticipants to engage. Following are four big takeaways from the research.
- Uninvolved students are disproportionately dissatisfied with their levels of campus engagement.
Asked how satisfied or unsatisfied they are with their involvement in campus life beyond the classroom, nearly one in three students over all says they are very satisfied and more than one in three says they’re somewhat satisfied. About one in five is neutral. Very few students—just about one in 10—are somewhat or very unsatisfied.
There are no major differences in satisfaction based on institution type (two-year versus four-year, or public versus private nonprofit), race or financial aid status. Working-class (25 percent) and middle-class (31 percent) students are less likely to be very satisfied than upper-middle (39 percent) and upper-class (50 percent) students, however.
Men are also slightly more likely than women to be very or somewhat satisfied with their campus involvement, (74 percent versus 66 percent, respectively). LGBTQIA+ students (27 percent) are somewhat less likely than straight peers (35 percent) to be very satisfied with their involvement in campus life.
Crucially, spending time weekly on extracurriculars and campus events is correlated with increased satisfaction on engagement in campus life. And uninvolved students—those who spend zero hours per week on extracurriculars and campus events—are disproportionately dissatisfied with their campus engagement.
- Fewer than half (42 percent) of students who spend zero hours per week (n=340) are very or somewhat satisfied.
- More than three in four (77 percent) students who spend even one to five hours per week on extracurriculars (n=635) are very or somewhat satisfied, meanwhile.
- Nearly all (91 percent) students who spend six to 10 hours per week on extracurriculars (n=214) are very or somewhat satisfied.
- Some 86 percent of students who spend 11-plus hours per week on extracurriculars (n=61) are very or somewhat satisfied, potentially hinting at diminishing returns on satisfaction past a certain involvement threshold.
- Campus involvement levels are linked to ease in making friends.
As for how easy or difficult it’s been to meet new people and make friends on campus, about two in 10 students over all say it’s been very easy, and three in 10 say it’s been somewhat easy. About a quarter of students are neutral. Nearly two in 10 say it’s been somewhat difficult to meet people, and fewer than one in 10 says it’s been very difficult.
There are no major differences here between two- and four-year institutions, but nearly three in 10 students at private nonprofit institutions say it’s been very easy to make friends, compared to fewer than two in 10 students at publics.
By race, a quarter of white students say it’s very easy to make friends versus about 17 percent each for Asian, Black and Hispanic students. Legacy students also find it somewhat easier to make friends than nonlegacy students, as do straight students relative to their LGBTQIA+ peers. Men also find it somewhat easier to make friends than women do.
Similar to the findings on levels of involvement and satisfaction, time spent on extracurriculars or campus events appears to be linked to ease of making new social connections.
- Just 37 percent of students who spend zero hours per week participating in extracurriculars and events say it’s somewhat or very easy to meet new people and make friends on campus.
- Meanwhile, 56 percent of students who spend just one to five hours per week on these activities say it’s easy to meet people.
- Fifty-nine percent of students who spend six to 10 hours per week on these activities say it’s easy to meet people.
- Sixty-one percent of students who spend 11 or more hours per week on these activities say it’s easy to meet people.
- Less involved students may need extra reminding when it comes to campus events.
What would be most helpful in boosting students’ awareness of campus events? The largest share of the full survey sample, about a third, says an online campus events calendar would help. A little over a quarter of students say they’d benefit from a campus events calendar housed within a campus app instead. Nearly a quarter of students each say they’d benefit from push notifications from a campus app and emails about specific events.
Less popular options for the overall sample include emails about upcoming events for the whole month, social media posts on the college’s main account and posters and fliers around campus. Very few students say they’d benefit from social media posts on specific club and group accounts, digital signage around campus, and college- or university-sponsored social media posts on peer or student ambassadors’ social media accounts.
That’s all relatively consistent across student
s groups and institution s types, though students who are very or somewhat unsatisfied with their level of campus involvement (n=136) have a slightly different set of preferences here. For this group, the top four most helpful options are:
- Push notifications from a campus app (30 percent)
- An events calendar online (27 percent)
- Emails about specific events (22 percent)
- An events calendar in a campus app (22 percent)
- Virtual participation preferences for campus events vary.
Not all students can always (or often) make events in person. Asked how they’d be most likely to participate virtually in campus events if they couldn’t attend on-site, nearly a quarter of students each say recordings available to watch anytime and live streams online with interactive features such as comments or polls.
Less popular options include live streams on social media specifically with interactive features, live streams online (without interactive features) and live streams (without interactive features) on social media specifically.
Nearly one in five (19 percent) students expresses no preference for any of these options, though. This number jumps to 27 percent among students who are very or somewhat dissatisfied with their campus involvement and to 25 percent among students who spend zero hours weekly on involvement (with significant overlap between these two groups), meaning that virtual participation options may not be a Rosetta stone to unlocking involvement for all.
John D. Foubert, dean of education at Union University in Tennessee, has found that involved students, and especially those with sustained involvement, report greater development in moving through autonomy toward interdependence with peers and establishing a clarifying purpose for their lives. Uninvolved students, meanwhile, have consistently lower psycho-social developmental scores.
Reviewing these new Student Voice data, Foubert says, “Many if not most students likely do not know the full benefits of involvement.” One way of getting more students engaged in campus life beyond the classroom may therefore be sharing the data outlining these benefits with academic advisers, student leaders and student life staff, “using it as an encouragement to reach out to uninvolved or underinvolved students.”
He adds, “Sometimes a student just needs to be asked to get involved.”