An essential part of a university student’s experience is a sense of belonging. Student affairs researcher Alexander W. Astin said that students who become more involved in university life tend to have higher rates of retention and satisfaction with their overall university experience. Therefore, it’s important for university staff and faculty to help students find their place at school, and this often includes referring them to the right organization.
Student associations, clubs, and organizations can help students create connections, build relationships, and expand their skill sets beyond the classroom. Not only are student associations great for improving the university experience, the skills and connections gained from participation in one can help launch a student well past graduation. The role of student associations is critical, especially now during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The role of the student association:
These types of organizations are widely varied, and can range from organized clubs, intramural sports, fraternities or sororities, bands, special interest groups, and student governments. These organizations exist for the purpose of bringing students together, helping them acclimate to life at the university, connecting them to other students, as well as alumni, and can help students develop transferable skills. Through organizations, students can meet others, grow as individuals, and help find their place at school. It’s also a great way for students to relax and have fun with their peers.
Challenges of COVID-19:
Like most areas of higher education, student associations weren’t immune to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools rapidly shut down in the spring of 2020, organizations were also scrambling to figure out what comes next. Students were sent home, and that broke up many of the connections forged between students when they had been allowed to be together in person. However, student organizations remained as important as ever, despite the difficulties created by the pandemic. Students were concerned that being forced to cancel activities was limiting the opportunities usually provided by their participation in student organizations.
However, despite many difficulties, student associations still found ways to connect. Recruitment events shifted online, or met in smaller, socially distanced groups. As campuses began opening up, groups could meet outside, or resume virtual meetings to continue offering support to one another. While it isn’t ideal, it’s a way forward through these tumultuous times.
Issues facing student associations:
Even before the COVID-19 shutdowns, there were still various issues at play for student associations. Lack of student interest and participation can be a threat to the continuation of organizations. With so many options out there, it can be hard for students to commit to which group they want, or even to find the groups in the first place. Additionally, lack of funding can make it difficult for student groups to accomplish what they’d like. Finally, without guidance, it can prove difficult for students to navigate the red tape at their institution. Many groups struggle to find advisors who can be present, and are well-versed in helping students figure out the various nuances of running an organization.
How can universities help these organizations?
Fortunately, the issues facing student associations aren’t insurmountable, and there are many ways universities can assist them going forward.
While organizations are still required to meet virtually, universities can offer IT assistance, or help students figure out how to make virtual meetings go more smoothly for all involved. This could include having a staff member available to help troubleshoot connectivity issues, or making rooms available for students who might not have easy access to the internet outside of school hours.
Even before the pandemic, getting information into the hands of students can be tough. Therefore, it’s important for universities to determine the best way to communicate with their student populations in order to get information to them regarding student associations. Work with current organizations to help them advertise their association to prospective members.
When possible, help organizations and associations connect with advisors. Once that’s happened, make sure advisors are trained on how they can be most effective to help with the organization. The role of an advisor is to assist, but not control or manage the organization. Students should know the advisor is there to support them, but also understand they can make mistakes and explore.
Create opportunities for students to learn about which organizations your university offers, and help them figure out which will be the best fit for them. This can include hosting virtual or in person organizational fairs, encouraging organizations to hold recruitment events, as well as sharing literature and information about associations. Encourage university employees who are regularly student-facing to be well versed in what associations are offered by the university. Additionally, make this information easily available, so anyone who might want to know more can find more information. This includes making sure the organization’s key information, such as meeting place and time, point of contact, and advisor information are all up to date. This should be updated each semester to ensure accuracy.
The importance of student associations can’t be denied, especially during these times. However, to ensure that students get the most out of running these organizations, as well as participating in them, the support of the university is critical. By helping assist students in the process of developing and implementing their student associations, universities can be assured their students are getting even more out of their education and experience.