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Three Ways to Drive Student Engagement and Success

The EvoLLLution | Three Ways to Drive Student Engagement and Success
Engagement techniques like involving students in the decision-making process for course features and capitalizing on technology-driven opportunities significantly drive retention and success among non-traditional students.

This article starts with an assumption and an admission. The assumption is that there is a positive correlation between student engagement (in courses and through extracurricular and co-curricular activities), student success, and strong retention and graduation rates.[1] The admission is that, while our Georgetown School of Continuing Studies has strong course-and-program rates that we can tie to engagement, we have not yet fully translated those strategies to the extracurricular and co-curricular realm.

As Bristow notes, “Integrating academics, enrollment, student support services and business processes is the most challenging step of all because it requires strong leadership that breaks down communication or personality silos and focuses all teams on seamless customer service.”[2] This article describes a strategy that we developed (and are currently implementing) with the goal of enhancing our own engagement efforts to bridge academic and student affairs, and lead, we hope, to greater overall student satisfaction and retention.

Students ranked “instructional effectiveness” as most important to their educational experience in the Noel-Levitz 2007 National Adult Priorities Report with “campus climate” ranked in the middle and, somewhat oddly, “academic services” ranked last but with the lowest level of satisfaction.[3] Instructional quality ranked highly in our own internal student survey while areas associated with general campus climate and academic affairs were viewed as less important. In preparation for connecting these areas more effectively and directly as a school, we carefully studied the engagement techniques used by our academic programs with the highest three-year retention and five-year graduation rates. These were Emergency & Disaster Management; Public Relations & Corporate Communications; and Sports Industry Management—with over 90 percent for each program in both categories.

The engagement provided by these programs included the following elements, which we have used to create extracurricular and co-curricular opportunities:

1. Variety of Engagement Opportunities

Each program offered multiple options for academic, personal, and social engagement. The Public Relations program encouraged service learning through its “Cause Consulting” courses and Center for Social Impact Communication, while the Sports Industry Management program paired with Technology Management to host a Sports+Tech Summit. The Emergency & Disaster Management program found student expertise to help in response to the Ebola epidemic. Seeing the success of these programs encouraged us to host campus-wide film screenings and lectures with diverse experts like Dr. Turi King who identified King Richard III’s skeletal remains and Dana White, the head of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

2. Convenience and Modality

We learned that each program capitalized on technology in ways that allowed them to be much more inclusive and responsive to their students’ active lives. They constructed hybrid courses, blending online and place-based learning; developed webinars and held discussion groups on Twitter; and offered educational opportunities in the mornings, over lunch breaks and on weekends. Every program also required experiential learning at some point in the curriculum. Based upon their success, we sought and secured an agreement to offer early-morning professional development courses to federal government workers, and we were able to bring together students, faculty and staff for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service over a weekend. Additionally, we offered our first conference session, Leadership for the Innovative University: A Public Forum, simultaneously online and on campus, accepting questions via Twitter.

3. Shared Responsibility

We found students were most engaged in each of these programs because they were invited to share their own goals and creative ideas to enhance the curriculum. Emergency & Disaster Management students asked that London be added as part of their international experience, and the program was able to accommodate that request. When enrolling in classes, the Public Relations students created their own hashtags to identify, discuss and promote courses. Their students also felt that internships would be a valuable addition to elective offerings, and they created a proposal that was accepted and implemented by that program. After reflecting upon these areas, we created a Student Advisory Board to give them an avenue to share concerns and make recommendations to the Dean. We have also encouraged affinity groups (student veterans, international students, LGBTQ students) to come together and share their needs and goals with us and to help us identify ways to provide them with support throughout their journey.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us to build and maintain opportunities for student engagement, particularly as we expand our online program options. Our goal is to provide relevant, meaningful opportunities that not only respond to, but eventually anticipate, our students’ expectations.

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[1] Linda G. Wyatt, “Nontraditional Student Engagement: Increasing Adult Student Success and Retention” The Journal of Continuing Higher Education 59.1 (2011). Accessed at

[2] Laura Bristow, “Three Steps to Improving Student Persistence through High-Touch Strategies” The EvoLLLution: Illuminating the Lifelong Learning Movement, September 25, 2014. Accessed at

[3] Noel-Levitz, Inc., The 2007 National Adult Student Priorities Report. Accessed at

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