Research

Innovative Presidents Finding Ways to Use Social Media for Student Engagement

group of college students talking with administrator

A new report that examines how college presidents interact with students shares how the most innovative leaders have gone beyond the standard fare (photo opportunities and participation in service events) to embrace social and digital mechanisms.

"Presidential Engagement of Students at Minority Serving Institutions" was produced by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI), within the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

The report opens with a foreword from one of the most socially engaged minority-serving institution (MSI) presidents, Walter Kimbrough of Dillard University, a historically Black school in New Orleans. He recounted how, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, his administration's attempts to engage with individual students identified as being "potentially impacted" created kickback from those not included in the outreach efforts. That experience led his institution to undertake an evaluation of overall student engagement and its effectiveness. (The lowest rated engagement strategy resulting from a survey of students: having lunch in the cafeteria.) Then Kimbrough reached out to other HBCU and MSI presidents to get their input on effective strategies.

What's most interesting in the report are the recaps of the innovative ways individual presidents reach out. For example:

  • Beverly Hogan, president of Tougaloo College, and Austin Lane, president of Texas Southern University, both have online portals to collect student complaints.
  • President Judy Sakaki of Sonoma State University has a request form where students can coordinate a "walk and talk" in which they can informally chat with her.
  • Renu Khator at the University of Houston has nearly 89,000 followers, making her the most followed MSI president on Twitter. She tweets nearly every day and can hit 600 likes on her most popular posts, which include selfies with students and posts about everyday life activities that bring her happiness.
  • The president of Texas State University, Denise Trauth, has developed a web page designated specifically for student engagement. The site contains the dates and times that she is available to meet with students one-on-one for 15 minutes to discuss any concern they may have; this time is also made available for student group meetings.

The report also offered a handful of straightforward recommendations for presidents who want to increase their social media presence to expand outreach to students:

  • Create a social media account;
  • Then use it, almost daily;
  • Diversify the content by covering student activities, institutional success, sports coverage, community service and other public awareness posts; and repost or comment on student posts too;
  • Call in the social media team to help out;
  • Follow students to acknowledge their presence; and
  • Get personal: Share what's going on in life outside of the office.

The report isn't a comprehensive study so much as a collection of activities undertaken by institutional presidents all over the country to engage students — what Kimbrough calls a "first step."

Kimbrough said that what he'd like to see next is more formal research to determine whether presidential engagement has any impact on educational outcomes. "This presidential engagement report hopes to spark discussion on how presidents can better engage their students, provide presidential best practices for leaders seeking to increase their student engagement and spur research on the impact of presidential engagement on institutional goals and educational outcomes," he said in a statement.

The report is openly available on the CMSI website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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