Supporting Student Success: A Culture of Belonging

A topic of much research, sense of belonging has been shown to play a key role in student persistence and success. 

With extensive research over the past two decades on the factors contributing to student retention and attribution, HEI’s are turning their attention towards community building in an effort to boost student persistence and success rates.

Work on the subject of student retention by researcher  Vincent Tinto (1987) has highlighted the relationship between “the willingness of institutions to involve themselves in the social and intellectual development of their students” and “student commitment to the institution”. With this research further supported by a more recent study by McKinsey & Co who identified a sense of belonging as an even stronger predictor of success than conventionally accepted factors such as post-primary GPA and whether a students’ parents went to college.

Personal considerations such as financial limitations, ethnicity and gender have been shown to play a role in the students decision to leave college. However it is participation in campus life that has been shown to significantly impact on a students decision to remain enrolled.

Higher education professionals seeking to develop a sense of affinity amongst students must seek to establish “imagined communities”. Introduced by Benedict Anderson (1983) the term“imagined communities” relates to the affinity or bond we share with our fellow-citizens, while we do not know everyone within our nation’s borders we imagine them to be like us, with shared values and interests. Administrators and faculty members want students to have a sense that they have a “place” at the school, seeing themselves as a life long member of the institution rather than simply located temporarily within the community. This affinity with the institutions not only supports retention and engagement initiatives but fosters the development of an inclusive alumni community.

Research conducted by WhatWorks? identified four key strategies for developing a culture of belonging;

  • Establishing supportive peer relations
  • Development of meaningful interaction between staff and students
  • Developing a personal sense of knowledge, confidence and indemnity within students
  • Providing an environment which fosters unique interests and provides opportunities for students to participate in activities that support their future goals.