Higher ed professionals manage the dual responsibility of tending to the wellbeing of their students and institution. The two roles are entwined as higher student engagement is a strong indicator of student retention and success. As students return to campus this fall after navigating a challenging year, many in higher ed may be wondering how to get college students involved on campus to provide emotional wellbeing for students and financial wellbeing for their university. 

Make involvement easy

Behavior science research tell us that one of the best ways to develop a new habit is to make it easy. By removing roadblocks and obstacles, we trick our brain into doing new things because it automatically chooses the easy path over the hard one. Higher education professionals can deduce that making the path to participation easy is a good way to get college students involved on campus. Make sign-ups to your events easy and make communication clear and concise. When it makes sense (and is ethical), have students opt out of involvement instead of opting in to promote better engagement in your on-campus activities.

Incentivize engagement

An additional principle for higher ed professionals to apply from human behavior science is that what is rewarded will be repeated. Making habits rewarding increases the likelihood that someone will repeat the same behavior in the future. For college students, offering an incentive for participation can be an effective way to get college students involved on campus. Offering extrinsic rewards like free t-shirts, campus swag, extra credit, or free food are effective ways to engage students in campus events until the intrinsic rewards (feeling pride, connectedness, happiness) takes over and drives future, lasting engagement. 

Connect students around shared interests

In today’s environment, there is no shortage of topics around which people are uniting. Whether it’s political, racial, religious, environmental, or gender related issues, universities can provide safe places for these important conversations. Connecting students around these issues is an emerging opportunity to get college students involved on campus. Even groups around general interests, like sports, the arts, or business helps improve retention as students feel connected to like minded people in their community. 

Ask for feedback… and listen 

As students return to campus in the fall after an anything-but-normal school year, it’s a critical time to ask your student population for their feedback and respond to what they share. Ask what worked and what didn’t. Ask what they’d like to keep and what they’d like to discard. Ask about their physical and mental health and be open to accommodating their requests. When you let them know their voice matters, you will get more college students involved on campus. 

Make it social

Humans crave connection. Tapping into this natural desire to be with others is an effective way to get college students involved on campus. Offer two for one tickets or other benefits to groups that attend together, like free drinks or food. Or make your event appealing with great social media posts to entice students with visuals that promise a good time. Since 90% of young adults are using social media, this strategy has a strong likelihood of prompting involvement when it’s done well.

Initiating efforts to get college students involved on campus will happen through some trial and error this fall. But the payoff is the observance of good physical and emotional wellbeing for students and strong retention for the institution.