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.