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Using Outcome to Elevate Students’ Sense of Belonging on Campus

A key theme in this year’s annual Assessment Institute was students’ sense of belonging. Presenters were exploring and discussing research about this construct, and how we measure, understand, and apply the findings to build students’ sense of belonging on campuses.

When students feel a sense of belonging on campus, it encourages their learning trajectory and this sense of belonging has positive impacts throughout college. But why and how do we identify student sense of belonging on campus? Generally, students feel “they belong” for a number of reasons, including:

– feeling connected to friends and/or faculty members,
– feeling attached to their program of study, major, industry, and/or mentors,
– and opportunities to hold onto their identities within the infrastructure of an institution, particularly for students whose identities have faced oppression or colonization.

Belonging is personal. Some students really identify with being a part of a team or club, especially student athletes, while others connect with the brand of the school. What is equally interesting, are the findings on why students can feel like they don’t belong, like:

– feeling unwelcomed,
– feeling singled out for an identity characteristic or disability,
– and feeling like they don’t belong because of visible or perceived class marker(s).

These conversations about sense of belonging happened in late October, at an assessment meeting, implying the willingness and want to change and improve experiences for students.

Through Outcome, we are able to understand campus environment more deeply, and can ask important questions about inclusive learning environments. We can design deployment of experiential learning initiatives and opportunities, as well as through the campus brand, about who we are and who we serve. We can reach all students with meaningful opportunities to apply what’s learned in-class to the real world. Experiential learning opportunities in turn empower graduates to go into our communities with purpose – channeling the positive impacts of sense of belonging and identity in the lives of others.

Some questions I have for you, are:

What markers of belonging do you collect already?

How could you look at your data through the lens of belonging?

Most importantly, what can you do to change the way students experience belonging?  

Answering these questions and facilitating change to invoke a deeper sense of student belonging on your campus is a key change opportunity. Your thinking can change from having the data to make sense of it. The purpose of assessment is to improve the learning environment on your campus, and doing so can increase sense of belonging and student success.

You can listen to our recent podcast, “Building Student Belonging”, on Spotify HERE.

Bill Heinrich
Director of Mindset