11 Spooky Myths About Student Affairs & Co-Curricular Engagement
In many ways, Student Affairs is only as valuable as its reputation.
When students don't buy into the value of engaging in campus life, engagement — and thus the benefits it provides — suffers. Likewise, when other departments within a college or university hold misconceptions about the work of Student Affairs, campus decision-makers are likely to reduce the budget devoted to student engagement.
So, today, we're debunking some of the top myths that harm Student Affairs and keep colleges and universities from reaching their full potential.
If you are a Student Affairs professional yourself, we hope these facts and figures will inspire you to educate students and colleagues on your work. If you're a student or a higher education professional focused on another area, we hope this list will give you a truer, more vibrant picture of student engagement.
1. Student organizations and campus events are just a silly distraction from the real educational experience.
Higher ed leaders outside of Student Affairs often scoff at student clubs and organizations. They may argue that clubs focused on frisbee golf, anime or a capella provide bits of pointless fun — enjoyable for their few members but without any bearing on the overall collegiate experience.
But the research says otherwise. Co-curricular engagement isn’t an easy, mindless way for students to fill up their free time, akin to watching TV or scrolling Tik Tok. Students who regularly engage in campus programs and join student organizations are more likely to persist through to the next academic year than their uninvolved peers. They also typically feel a greater sense of belonging within their institutions, maintain higher GPAs and are seen as more ready for the workforce by employers.
Additional reading: How Student Engagement Can Make or Break Your Retention Rate
2. The only goal of co-curricular events is to have fun.
First off, having fun can easily be argued to be a noble goal in and of itself! Fun programming supports students’ mental health, promotes social wellness and increases students’ satisfaction with the higher ed experience.
But fun isn’t the only goal. The most successful programs are built with specific learning outcomes in mind, giving participants skills to support their academic and career success.
Additional reading: Co-curricular Frameworks for Skills Development in Student Affairs
3. Learning only happens inside the classroom.
The learning outcomes mentioned in mythbuster #2 aren’t mere ambitions; students really do reach those goals.
A 2016 study of students across 40 colleges and universities found that highly involved students rated themselves higher than their uninvolved peers in the top 11 soft skills valued by employers. Plus, a desire to learn new skills is why many students join campus clubs and organizations in the first place. The majority of highly involved students at The Ohio State University – 63.6% – said they engage with student organizations, at least in part, to gain leadership skills and abilities.
Additional reading: 3 Ways Colleges and Universities Can Help Students Meet Employer Demands
4. There’s no need for Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to ever collaborate.
Students don’t view their academic experiences as separate from their co-curricular engagement; it’s all part of their broader higher ed experience. So, as studies have shown, collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs improves the holistic student experience and produces greater outcomes for the institution.
Here are some ways Student Affairs professionals can start collaborating with their colleagues in Academic Affairs.
5. Being involved on campus has no impact on a student’s job prospects.
Once again, research says otherwise.
Today’s employees are increasingly looking for applicants with impressive soft skills; industry-specific knowledge is not enough to make students competitive in the workforce.
Fortunately, employers understand that co-curricular engagement boosts skill development. In response to a survey by the American Association of Colleges & University, employers said they are more likely to hire candidates who had the following experiences in college:
- An internship or apprenticeship - 90%
- A work-study program or other form of employment during college - 90%
- An experience that involved working in community settings with people from diverse backgrounds or cultures - 88%
- An experience that involved working with mentors and/or individualized advisors - 87%
- A community-based or service-learning project - 85%
- A global learning experience that included exposure to diverse experiences and perspectives - 84%
Additional reading: What Students Need from Higher Ed to Articulate Essential Skills
6. Student Affairs can’t prove its impact.
Many SA pros would disagree with you there.
Take, for instance, three institutions that keenly leveraged student data to showcase the connection between engagement and retention:
- Hartford Community College found that students who attend campus co-curricular events are 53.7% more likely to persist through to the next academic year than their non-engaged peers.
- Arkansas Tech University found that first-year students who record at least one hour of community or volunteer service have a 94% retention rate — 22% points more than their peers who didn’t record any community or volunteer service hours.
- Valdosta State University found that students who attend at least 10 events per semester are 13 percentage points more likely to persist through to the next semester.
Additional reading: The Impact of College Student Engagement, By the Numbers
7. Analyzing data isn’t part of the job.
Data shouldn’t just be your assessment specialist’s job.
Collecting and analyzing data can guide your decision-making — informing decisions big and small, from how to arrange event seating to whether orientation needs a complete overhaul. By better understanding campus trends and students needs, you can unlock new ways and approaches for engaging, supporting and retaining more students.
With the right data, you can make informed decisions about funding, staff efficiencies, programming, engagement initiatives and so much more.
Additional reading: 5 Clever Ways You Can Use Engagement Data to Improve Campus Programming
8. Only extroverted students care about getting involved.
To bust this myth, let’s first bust a myth about introversion: being introverted isn’t equivalent to being shy, having social anxiety, and/or lacking any interest in other people. No need to envision your introverted students cloaked in all black, emerging from the depths of their quiet rooms exclusively for class and only talking when absolutely necessary.
Introverts can – and often do — enjoy socializing and deeply value interpersonal relationships. It’s just that they prefer different modes of socializing, ones with less stimulation.
When they’re connected to the right opportunities, students of all personalities can enjoy and benefit from student engagement.
Additional reading: Draw Your Introverted Students into Campus Life with These 7 Tips
9. Engaging commuter students is a lost cause.
Designing opportunities that draw in students who’ll need to drive or take public transport is indeed more challenging than engaging students who live on campus or right next to it. But it’s far from a lost cause.
You’ll need to design programs with their needs specifically in mind. Consider timing, location, accessibility and, of course, the program’s content; will commuters students easily be able to attend and will they be tempted to do so?
This is another instance wherein data can help. By understanding the challenges and goals of your commuter learners, you can design programs that fit the bill.
Additional reading: 8 Outstanding Programs That’ll Elevate the Commuter Experience on Your Campus
10. Students won’t attend evening events without alcohol.
Most Gen Z students like to follow rules and are not interested in engaging in high-risk drinking. The bad news is that they believe their peers do not share these values, and that assumption may persuade them to participate in high-risk drinking.
One way to counter this phenomenon on your campus is to provide alternative events and activities for your students to check out on the weekends and evenings. Hosting alcohol-free events like these give your students welcoming spaces to get to know friends and relax without feeling pressured to drink.
Additional reading: 19 Alcohol-Free Program Ideas that Perfectly Engage Students Away from Partying
11. Pizza parties and free t-shirts are the best ways to promote engagement.
Pizza and free t-shirts can occasionally work well to motivate attendance, but these two staples can quickly lose their luster — especially when multiple student orgs and staff departments offer those same prizes day after day.
Gamification is one fantastic way to incentivize engagement. By assigning point values to each experience and granting points for achievements, you’ll keep students coming back for more. Key here are progressive rewards; make your prizes better and better each time students return.
Additional reading: How You Can Gamify Student Experiences to Level Up Engagement
Last updated: October 31, 2022