Over the last few weeks I have been part of several conversations about the constant evaluation and evolutionary process of the leadership programs at my internship. Not only are we continuing to develop program and learning outcomes, but also evaluating the structure and format of the programs themselves, and the resources that are allocated to them.
While the benefits of getting students involved are well-documented (often correlated to higher retention, GPAs, stronger engagement, and opportunities to build all kinds of beneficial skill sets and through their experiences), what continually sticks out to me, is that many of the programs and initiatives coming out of our offices of student involvement and activities are year long, or multi-year programs. These allow us to not only build connections to student over time to see (and document) their growth, but also develop strong connections between students as well. Everyone wins, right?
Well, sort of. I can’t help but shake the notion that the students we “miss” aren’t exactly missing us. After all, students who we engage are more likely to come back later on within multiple programs, but I fear that often the “uninvolved” are the students we should be making a more intentional effort to reach.
The not so insightful connection here is that by extending considerable resources to a small group of the same students at multiple points within their college experience, (while beneficial to their growth), we overlook opportunities to get a broader range of students involved. They get involved– part of a circle of students taking on all the functional programming on your campus.
Look at the culture of your programs within recruitment season– how many “brand new” (that is, never been involved in any other programs within your office) are you influencing and offering services to? For students who aren’t already involved in leadership and programming positions on your campus, the same factors that are your programmatic selling points (building connections to others, making friends, etc.), may also be the cultural barriers to your broader impact and success as an office.
What is the stigma around being involved on your campus? Does your campus population (outside of student leaders) generally feel invited to participate?
I recognize that the likely connection that we make is in acknowledging that other students are impacted by our leaders– and I don’t want to discredit that. But if by “selling” campus activities we provide the implicit framework that you’re “in” or “out,” the exclusivity that is often used to attract students may be creating a wall in the face of attracting a broader range of students.
What have you put into place to combat this perception? Have you considered the success of programs like this as representative of the cultural stigma of your office? How do we adapt our training and recruiting practices to adapt to these types of concerns?