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Changing the Context of Student Engagement: Using Facebook to Increase Community College Student Persistence and Success


by Loris Fagioli, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar & Regina Deil-Amen — 2015

Background: Community college leaders are now turning to social media/social networking sites for new avenues and opportunities to increase students’ interaction, engagement, and collaboration with peers, faculty, and staff. Social media may be a particularly attractive option because it can provide a potentially effective and exciting mechanism for catalyzing such connections for students.

Purpose/Objective: This study examines the use of social media/social networking sites and its relationship to academic outcomes in the context of community colleges.

Population/Participants: We used longitudinal data from about 17,000 students who joined a Facebook based online application (the Schools App) in seven community colleges across the country. We compared these members to students who did not join the app for an overall sample size of about 98,000.

Research Design: This study used a quasi-experimental design with propensity score matching and random effects regression to estimate the effects of online engagement on student outcomes.

Findings/Results: We find that there is, indeed, a relationship between social media use and academic outcomes. The most active users as well as passive users had the highest GPAs and chances of continuing the next semester compared to inactive members of the online community as well as compared to nonmembers.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We find that certain forms of online engagement have a distinct relationship with GPA and persistence. The results of this study also suggest that, although potentially valuable, it is not easy to build an online community. Sustaining continued use of the application was challenging and strongly dependent on the quality and relevance of the posted comments and discussion. Nevertheless, this study found that for those who continued to use the application, there were positive effects in terms of student outcomes. Our findings further support the notion that integration is relevant for community college student persistence, but the nature of that integration—more simultaneously social as well as academically oriented—is important to consider in both offline and online contexts. Recommendations focus on a more strategic use of social media, which puts specific emphasis on answering questions and getting involved in online communities and not using social media solely for marketing or dissemination of information purposes. On campuses where students realized that answers to pertinent questions were available (through administrators and peers), online engagement was of high quality. Sustaining high quality online interaction is therefore one element in ensuring a positive effect on student engagement and outcomes.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 12, 2015, p. 1-42
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18150, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 11:12:25 AM

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About the Author
  • Loris Fagioli
    Claremont Graduate University
    E-mail Author
    LORIS P FAGIOLI is a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University. His research interests center around questions of stratification of educational opportunities. He studies this stratification in college access and choice, student engagement through social media, international comparative topics of education, and value-added measures of school and teacher accountability. His recent publications include: “A Comparison between Value-added School Estimates and Currently Used Metrics of School Accountability in California” in Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability and “A Call for Consensus in the Use of Student Socioeconomic Status Measures in Cross-National Research using the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)” in Teachers College Record.
  • Cecilia Rios-Aguilar
    UCLA
    E-mail Author
    CECILIA RIOS-AGUILAR is Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Higher Education Research Institute in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles. Dr. Rios-Aguilar’s research is multidisciplinary and uses a variety of conceptual frameworks—funds of knowledge and the forms of capital—and of statistical approaches—regression analysis, multilevel models, structural equation modeling, GIS, and social network analysis—to study the educational and occupational trajectories of under-represented minorities. Dr. Rios-Aguilar’s research interests include quantitative research methods, big data, social media, community colleges, and educational policies.
  • Regina Deil-Amen
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    REGINA DEIL-AMEN is a professor of higher education and Sociology and an expert on college student transitions. Her major work includes a study she directed about how community colleges and private career/technical, or “occupational,” colleges structure education differently and use different institutional procedures to prepare students for sub-baccalaureate careers. The book, After Admission, written with James Rosenbaum, details the findings of that project. With funding from the NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, she completed a longitudinal qualitative study of urban, low-SES African-American and Latino students’ transition from high poverty high schools to one, two, and four-year colleges. Her more recent research analyzes strategies, challenges, and success among lower-income university students, including Latino students’ social networks and career decision-making. Currently her work explores how community college students use social media to create community and enhance their success. Some recent publications include “The Dynamics and Effects of Social Media Use in Community Colleges” in Community College Journal of Research and Practice, “Socio-Academic Integrative Moments: Rethinking Academic and Social Integration Among Two-Year College Students in Career-Related Programs” in Journal of Higher Education, and “College for All Latinos? The Role of High School Messages in Facing College Challenges” in Teachers College Record. She has also recently published two book chapters, “The ‘Traditional’ College Student: A Smaller and Smaller Minority and Its Implications for Diversity and Access Institutions” in Remaking College (Stanford University Press) and “From FAFSA to Facebook: The Role of Technology in Navigating the Financial Aid Process” in Innovations in Financial Aid (Harvard Education Press).
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