THE motivation to look into student engagement in higher educationwas triggered by RA 10931,now a law mandating free tuition and school fees in state and local universities and in technical vocational institutions with corresponding free access mechanisms in private HEIs.While there may be much fewer college dropouts due to financial inadequacy, there are other reasons studentsdrop out of college. We in academe know that students with less motivation to study do drop out; there are those who neverreturn to complete college. They draw away from academic responsibilities when they find these dull and unattractive. They seek a haven inpot or jam sessions, drinking sprees, Internet cafes, etc. To address these situations,educational literature recommends that HEIs foster a culture of student engagement—to nurture in students“a sense of belonging.”
Emotional engagement nurtures belongingness.Besides intellectual engagement which we illustrated last week through having students participate, deciding what they wish to learn and how they can aptly demonstrate their learning gains, emotional engagement is one other form to nurture in students a sense of belonging. This entails mechanisms that ensure students can open up to adults, such as guidance counselors, about study-related as well as personal problems. Mentors for every year-level of studentsmay be designated for such a role. “The basic theory is that students will be more likely to succeed if at least one adult in the school is meeting with a student regularly, inquiring about academic and non-academic issues, giving advice, and taking an interest in the student’s out-of-school life, personal passions, future aspirations, and distinct learning challenges and needs.” This support fosters “emotional engagement.”<http://edglossary.org/student-engage ment/>.
Fostering student engagement in graduate students. In graduate studies, provision formentorship ofthesis and dissertation at an early stage of their graduate studies would be a welcome support for students. The tendency to be discouraged,and eventually to drop out, could begin during preparation of the concept paper of a thesis/dissertation. The suggestion is for graduate studies lecturers/mentors to train students in scholarship early on, even before enrolling in a formal research course. Assigningthem in content coursestowrite a review of literature and coaching them to drawfrom the literature a conceptual framework,and crafting one or two research questions—exposesstudents to the practice of scholarship early in their graduate studies. Most graduate students at present are at an age when a thesis was not yet required in baccalaureate courses. Hence, for a graduate program, this could be theirmaiden encounter with the formal research process.
Evidence-based successful retention practices. Herewith isa project that collected evidence-based successful retention practices of college students entitled “What Works: A Student Retention & Success Program.”This wasinitiated and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and theHigher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The HEFCE is a non-departmental public body of the Department for Education in the United Kingdom, which has been responsible for the funding distribution to universities and colleges of higher and further education since 1992. (My visit to the HEFCE in a previous study grant to the UK, gave me occasion to help invite through the British Council, Brian Fender, HEFCE’s chief executive, to be a guest at the then newly constituted Commission on Higher Education’s 1996Higher Education Institutions conference. HEFCE’s initiative to increaseStudent Retention and Success Program “supports the higher education sector in identifying and sharing best practice, across the student lifecycle, to enable students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, to succeed in higher education.” The projectexamined alternative approaches of 22 HEIs in the UKto improve student retention and success using a range of methods. “Their findings and conclusions were remarkably consistent. At the heart of successful retention and success is a strong sense of belonging in higher education for all students.”<https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/what_works_summary_report_0.pdf>.
What does “a sense of belonging” mean? The project report’s definition of “belonging” is closely aligned with the concept of student engagement, “encompassing both academic and social engagement.” Academic engagement is “synonymous with deep, as opposed to surface learning or compliance.” It reports that “mainstream activities that all students participate in “nurtures most effectively” this sense of belonging.The following were reported to be “effective approaches to improving retention and success”—“supportive peer relations, meaningful interaction between staff (means teachers) and students, and developing knowledge, confidence and identity as successful higher education learners.”Since “students who most need support are the least likely to come forward voluntarily,” the report suggests that ”activitiesshould proactively seek to engage students and develop their capacity to so do, rather than waiting for a crisis to occur, or the more confident students to take up opportunities.”<https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/what_works_summary_report_0.pdf>. Author of “What is Student Engagement Anyway?” (March 3, 2010) M.
Linda Deneen concludes her essay by saying, “Entangling students in our institutions in multiple, positive ways helps them to remain with us, learn more effectively, enjoy their student experience, and prepare for life outside higher education.”<http://er.educause.edu/ articles/2010/3/what–is-student-engagement-anyway>.
Four dominant research perspectives on student engagement.These are, one, the “behavioral perspective,” which “foregrounds student behavior and institutional practice.”Two,“the psychological perspective, which clearly defines engagement as an individual.”Three, focus on “the psycho-social process; the socio-cultural perspective, which highlights the critical role of the socio-political context.” Finally, four, there is “the holistic perspective, which takes a broader view of engagement.”<http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03075079.2011.598505journal Code=cshe20>