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Resource Center

Student Belonging Resource Center

Best practices to foster student connections with your institution

Students who feel a sense of belonging on campus are more likely to persist in college and have lower mental health risks compared to peers. But what does it really mean when students tell us they do or don’t feel like they belong? Through research and conversations with university leaders, EAB identified five components of belonging. For each of these components, we compiled links below to further research and best practices from the EAB library. Click on the links below to view resources for each component:

Seamless student experience

Small, day-to-day interactions with campus offices and university processes can add up to influence student belonging. Student services can either be easy to access and designed to make students feel welcome, or they can feel opaque and transactional in ways that leave students frustrated and confused. At worst, these interactions can make students wonder if they really belong in college, especially first-generation students and international students whose families may not be able to help them navigate administrative processes on campus.

Key questions for universities include: do students have to go to multiple different offices to get what they need? Does a staff member reach out when a student encounters a challenge, or are students expected to figure out how to resolve problems on their own? And are websites and virtual services easy to navigate and access-or do they pose even more barriers?

Use the below resources to set up “one-stop shops” for student questions, audit policies and processes to resolve barriers to belonging, and improve students’ experience with virtual services:

  1. Student Service One-Stop Shops
  2. One-Stop Service Portal
  3. Student Completion Policy Audit
  4. Student Services Virtual User Experience Audit

Mental health and wellbeing

In EAB’s conversations with campus leaders, many told us that mental health is the foundation for student belonging. Students experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression often isolate themselves and miss out on opportunities to find friendship and community.

To address these issues, leaders need to create a campus culture of wellbeing, promoting healthy behaviors and opportunities for stress reduction and encouraging help-seeking.  Leaders also need to add additional wellbeing support for students whose identities are underrepresented on campus. That includes basic needs support for students facing food and/or housing insecurity, and peer mentoring support for students whose K-12 experiences have left them with lower levels of institutional trust. These students can benefit from support from a peer who is not positioned as an authority.

Use the below resources to scale student access to mental health and wellness resources, enhance student resiliency skills, address food and housing insecurity, and build peer relationships that foster trust and connection:

  1. Connecting Low-Risk Students to Meaningful Resources on Campus
  2. Prime First-Year Students for Success with Resilience and Coping Skills
  3. Addressing College Students’ Basic Needs
  4. How to Scale Peer-to-Peer Support Programs to Close Equity Gaps

Active and engaged learning

Research indicates that active and engaged learning strategies improve students’ sense of belonging by building community in the classroom. To promote belonging, instructors should supplement large lecture courses with opportunities for hands-on activities, small-group discussion, and one-on-one interaction with instructors and teaching assistants.

Use the below resources to support faculty in redesigning critical gateway courses and to provide wraparound advising and tutoring support for students:

  1. Course Completion Playbook
  2. Scaling Learning Innovations
  3. Bottleneck Course Redesign

Cocurricular and social engagement

Students who participate in clubs, sports, and activities aligned with their interests are more likely to make friends, build connections, find communities where they can belong, and leave the institution with positive memories about their experience.

In EAB’s conversations with student affairs leaders, we heard many stories of students who hadn’t found a place to belong outside the classroom yet. Some of these students simply didn’t know how to get involved. Others weren’t sure how cocurricular activities could build their resumes as they prepared to enter a job market saturated with bachelor’s degree holders. And others still couldn’t get involved at all because they were studying remotely and had no virtual options for engagement.

Use the below resources to help students find opportunities to get involved beyond the classroom, to support students in developing leadership skills, and to engage distance learners through virtual activities:

  1. Enhance the Student Experience and Career Readiness with Course and Major Maps
  2. Guiding Student Leaders to the Next Level
  3. 120+ Virtual Engagement Strategies for New Students

Faculty mentoring and support

Another important factor in belonging is whether students have meaningful connections to faculty as mentors and supporters, not just classroom instructors. With few structured opportunities to meet and get to know their faculty, finding a faculty mentor can be challenging for any student. It can be even more challenging for students from historically underrepresented or marginalized backgrounds. These students may be seeking faculty mentors who share and understand their experiences, but university faculty are still significantly less diverse than university students.

Use the below resources to help connect students with faculty mentors who share their interests and backgrounds and to engage faculty in students’ wellbeing:

  1. Targeted First-Year Mentor Matching
  2. Four Components of Effective Sophomore Retention Efforts
  3. Expanding Wellbeing Initiatives Through Faculty Partnerships

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