Reaching the Uninvolved Student

Over the past few years, we’ve heard that students arriving to our campuses don’t care enough, or they’re ‘lazy millennials’.

Students today, no less or more than in the past, want to be engaged and connected on campus. Although their smartphone may be their first priority, we need to reflect on what a smartphone represents: a form of engagement. To get to know each student in an individual level, we must still get to know them in-person at campus events or through modern technology (because that’s what students now expect).

Many student organizations are changing up their engagement efforts to that of connecting with alumni of the organization and local student organizations to facilitate networks that are larger than solely their on-campus network.

Who Is The Uninvolved Student?

The continuum of involvement is just as diverse as most campuses themselves. We must be careful when we define involved students and must look to answer the question: are they truly uninvolved?


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The model of the ‘traditional’ student is in the past. We need to change our lens and realize each student has needs that differ from the other. We generally think of ‘nontraditional students’ as students who identify as first-generation college students and international students, we often end up putting students in boxes. But are we focusing on the right populations? How do we know, from evidence, that these are the students where we should be focusing our efforts?

According to the Nationals Survey of Student Engagement, there are ten indicators that determine distinct aspects of student engagement along with recommended high-impact practices:

  1. High-Order Learning
  2. Reflective and Integrative Learning
  3. Learning Strategies
  4. Quantitative Reasoning
  5. Collaborative Learning
  6. Discussions with Diverse Others
  7. Student-Faculty Interactions
  8. Effective Teaching Practices
  9. Quality of Interactions
  10. Supportive Environment

What if students aren’t meeting these engagement indicators? What if there are barriers that limit their involvement? What next?

CACUSS, the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services recently hosted a Twitter chat (#sacdn) called Digging Deeper into the Privilege of Student Involvement that reviewed potential barriers student affairs professionals should consider when thinking about potential barriers to involvement.

Specifically, questions four, five, and six of the twitter chat really inspired us to understand how we can be more mindful of normalizing the word ‘involvement’ and how we can be inclusive to students. Here are some tweets that captured what it means to be involved for a students on a continuum of involvement:

Creating Data-Driven & Relationship Focused Student Organizations

Advisors and student leaders need to be able to quantify breadth and reach of each of their programs by keeping track of student engagement.

Rather than organizations quantifying engagement through how many students attend an event, they should measure how students are impacted by their campus experience. This can happen through obtaining data quantitatively and qualitatively (storytelling with data is our favorite).

I’ve seen campuses focus solely on increasing numbers of students at programs, and we know that to increase engagement, this shouldn’t be the end goal. Students are looking for quality experiences, not necessarily the next big program to come to campus.

One way of assessing engagement and creating relationship-based student engagement is through The Digital Student Engagement Funnel.


Since the modern college student grew up around digital engagement as well as in-person engagement, we must understand how to nurture both. Digital engagement is another great way to get to face-to-face engagement and interactions with students (it complements in person engagement at events as well)!

Let’s dive-in to the Digital Student Engagement Funnel:

1. Building Awareness

It’s easy to boost awareness on social media platforms from your department and student engagement platform. Encourage students to ‘like’ a Facebook page, follow an Instagram account, or follow a Twitter account at the beginning of the year and throughout the year. Things like hosting contests online, posting engaging pictures, and having them tag friends in a photo are all small ways you can get students engaged – whether they live on-campus or off-campus.

Evaluate which social networks target specific students. Right now, a large population of students are on Instagram and families and parents are on Facebook. Identify a social media strategy that works for you and your team.

2. Creating Value & Holding Interest

Once you’ve worked on building awareness, it’s important to consistently deliver value on these social media sites or platforms. For example, if your goal is provide the most up-to-date campus news and resources, you may work to find the best times to share relevant articles written by students about student engagement.

How do you know if you’re providing value? Measuring relevant social media metrics like reach, engagement, and interactions to understand how engaging your on-campus brand is perceived. Additionally, once students are checked into events in-person, you can have them fill out a poll to provide feedback in the form of digital assessment.

3. Evaluating Engagement

Now, this is where things get exciting.

Your metrics may show that your online presence is indeed engaging, but how do you actually know if you’re engaging students? You could measure things like how many conversations you have online with students (whether from a department or personal account) and ask specific questions around student engagement. For example, you could tweet a question out on your campus hashtag (time to get vulnerable) and ask students about their biggest problems on campus.

4. Face-to-Face Engagement

Once you master fostering trust and exciting engagement online, you can nurture this trust in-person with students (yes, without being creepy). Establishing yourself as a digital reliable voice can make you seem more approachable in-real-life and students will appreciate that you’re meeting them where they’re at (online).

How do you actually meet up with students you’ve conversed with online? It could be through offering a program, contest, or simply offering to meet up for coffee or lunch in a local coffee shop or dining hall.

Continue experimenting with the four steps of digital student engagement to foster an inclusive community – let us know how it works for you!

Recruiting Campus Student Connectors

Student affairs professionals generally only interact with the top 1-5% of students on-campus: the students who are already involved and can rally peers and friends to attend events.

The challenge is finding the campus connectors who people trust and working with them to identify uninvolved students.

Sure, there are the student leaders who a lot of students may know of, but who do they actually know on a one-on-one, personal level? There are a lot of student connectors who aren’t as ‘popular’ and have an extensive network to reach students on and off campus.

What is a connector?

In Chapter 2 of The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell defines why connectors are important and how most of us know people (and students) like this in our lives,

“They are the kinds of people who know everyone. All of us know someone like this. But I don’t think that we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people. I’m not even sure that most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do.”

These are the students who have the most clout to reach uninvolved students. And they’re often an underutilized asset on campus.

Your Thoughts!

When thinking of best practices to reach the uninvolved student on campus, here are some key engagement practices and tools to think about:

  • Understand peer-to-peer interactions and how you can start a peer-to-peer student program with students you’ve identified as connectors on campus (not necessarily student leaders)
  • On-board student engagement software to identify which groups of students you’re engaging and inadvertently leaving out
  • Create a clear plan for alumni engagement (mentoring, video chats, etc)

One of the best ways to encourage students to get involved is to start their own student organization on campus.

Some of the most eye-catching organizations we’ve seen with our campus partners who utilize Presence include: The Beekeeping Club, The Bitcoin Club, the Love Your Melon Crew (fighting childhood cancer), and Another Man’s Trash. All have stemmed from strong student interests to bring students together to be involved in campus.

Do you think your students are completely uninvolved or just involved elsewhere?

What strategies have you used to reach the uninvolved college student?

Continue the conversation @themoderncampus on Twitter! Thanks for reading.

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham (she/hers) is a former Community Engagement Manager at Modern Campus Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.