An interesting piece was recently published on NPR that discusses the power of social networking on student retention at universities. The article states that many schools, such as Coppin State, are losing as much as 60% of their freshman class each year.

Some companies are attempting to address this problem by creating a stronger presence for the school on Facebook.

Just before we partnered with the Johns Hopkins University, the institution did a study of their online calendar usage and determined that over 90% of the incoming freshman class was relying on the calendar at jhu.edu exclusively — not Facebook — to find out what was happening on campus.

This raises the question: how effective is Facebook, or social media in general, in engaging and retaining students on a college campus?

A company mentioned in the piece, Inigral, creates a Facebook app for their partner schools, providing a walled garden for students to interact. While this sounds good on paper (all students are on Facebook, they’re already connected, why not leverage that?), the service depends entirely on the Facebook platform to function. There’s not much room for school pride on Facebook’s sterile landscape. It also requires that students proactively seek out their peers and engage with them. That’s a tall order for an incoming freshman.

One point the NPR article emphasized was the experimental nature of Inigral’s service. It notes, “It will be tough to show whether these efforts played any direct role in students’ decision to stay or go – that’s a subject for future research.” It’s too soon to tell if engaging on Facebook alone affects student retention. One student interviewed by NPR stated, “…unless you’re being proactive and you want to go out and look for things like [Inigral’s app] – it’s really on the student.”

Localist addresses that usage barrier by leveraging Facebook Connect as a login system and sharing mechanism, but the community exists at the school itself, giving students a sense of ownership. Our platform seamlessly integrates with a school’s website, so the content and controls are owned entirely by the school, not Facebook. It provides the engagement that students today demand, so they can still share their plans on Facebook, but all within the context of the school. It’s the best of both worlds.

We’ve already realized the power Localist has over engaging students on campus, and have the numbers to prove it. On average, within three months of Localist going live at a school, we average an 800% month over month growth in usage for the rest of the school year. Even better, Localist can be discovered organically by students, as it’s part of the school website. It doesn’t require constant encouragement like a service that only exists on Facebook does.

Students are always looking for ways to connect with their peers. All the schools we’re working with agree: Localist provides an unparalleled level of engagement to students, while offering powerful management functionality to faculty.

Interested? Give us a ring.

– Mykel