EduShare - Higher Ed Blog & News


The Power Of Belonging: Transforming Student Experiences In Higher Education

Student Belonging


In a recent Friday 5 Live podcast, Dr. Chris Hulleman discussed research he is engaged in regarding student belonging interventions and student motivation. Read on to learn how Chris defines student belonging and strategies institutions at all levels can take to help their learners feel like they belong.

Creating Belonging On Campus: A Path To Inclusivity & Engagement

Belonging in the context of higher education encompasses both academic and social dimensions. It involves the perception of being academically and socially integrated, where connections, support, and respect play pivotal roles. These key concepts are essential in fostering a sense of belonging among students.

For educational institutions aiming to enhance student engagement and retention, it's crucial to consider several questions: Do students feel welcomed by faculty, staff, and their peers? Is there a sense of respect for every student's voice, especially those from traditionally marginalized and underserved groups? 

Colleges and universities can cultivate a sense of belonging by creating a welcoming atmosphere, respecting diverse voices, and providing robust support systems. This, in turn, contributes to improved academic performance, higher student satisfaction, and a more cohesive campus community. Prioritizing these aspects of belonging benefits student well-being and aligns with the broader goals of equity and inclusion in higher education.

Safe Spaces & Brave Spaces: Brené Brown's Insights On Inclusivity

Author Brené Brown discusses the critical concepts of 'safe spaces' versus 'brave spaces,' a topic relevant to the context of belonging in higher education and student experiences. This discussion is particularly pertinent for students who often navigate academic and social environments feeling vulnerable or under threat due to factors like their skin color, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

For higher education professionals, it's essential to recognize and address these challenges. Creating supportive environments is crucial for students from diverse backgrounds and with intersectional identities. These professionals must strive to foster spaces where all students feel secure yet are encouraged to engage bravely with new ideas and perspectives.

Context & Opportunity: Keys To Student Success

The responsibility for educational success was often placed squarely on the shoulders of students, with the belief that they simply needed to exhibit more “grit” or adopt a growth mindset. However, this perspective overlooks a crucial aspect: much of human motivation and students' sense of belonging is influenced by their environment. To effectively create environments where students feel they belong, educational colleges and universities must examine opportunity structures at individual, instructional, and institutional levels. How do college policies like financial aid, classroom practices like syllabus statements, or experiences like orientation create an inclusive campus?

Crafting Interventions To Support Transitions Into College

Educational institutions have increasingly recognized the effectiveness of an intervention strategy that involves providing messages of shared experiences that normalize the transition into college. This approach has proven successful in helping new students realize that the challenges they face are common. In emphasizing that these struggles are often temporary and a shared part of the college experience, institutional messaging fosters a sense of community and belonging among students.

Importantly, this strategy doesn't simply assure students that everything will improve; instead, it acknowledges the reality of their experiences while providing a sense of efficacy. This approach helps build resilience and a growth mindset among college students, making them feel more connected and supported in their educational journey. By focusing on shared experiences and normalizing transition struggles, colleges can significantly enhance student engagement, retention, and overall well-being, contributing to a more positive and inclusive campus culture.

Enhancing Success With Belonging Interventions In Schools

Dr. Hulleman’s research includes belonging interventions in high school settings. The findings thus far have been dramatic. New students involved in onboarding activities centered around belonging had higher GPAs, particularly for students from racial and minority groups, and lower discipline referrals, including reduced detentions, suspensions, and tardiness.

In wrapping up, Dr. Hulleman encouraged higher education professionals to help students understand that the challenges they experience in transitioning into institutions are not unique to them – they share these challenges with other students who have successfully integrated into the campus culture and community. They're not alone. Simple interventions like talking to more senior students to see how they have addressed the experiences of onboarding and transitioning into the school environment and having those experiences validated can profoundly impact student success, behavior, and retention.

For nearly 20 years, Innovative Educators has assisted college leaders to build foundations of success for their students. Institutions have seen student engagement and retention increase as a result of utilizing Go2Orientation, OnlineLingo, and StudentLingo to onboard new students. Grounded in best practices for online learning, Innovative Educators student support tools are engaging, interactive, and community-building. Go2Orientation, OnlineLingo, and StudentLingo create a powerful online resource center supporting students throughout their academic journey.

Like To Learn More? Schedule A Demo


By Meg Foster
Online Learning & Design Specialist - Consultant


Comments 0
Leave a comment
Your Name:*
Email Address:*
Message: *

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

* Required Fields