As vital as institutions’ support services are to cultivating student belonging, many miss the mark, especially among Black students and other persons of color. Thanks in part to feeling a lack of belonging, Black students have lower six-year college completion rates, according to the Lumina Foundation. However, a new study out of California State University, Northridge illustrates that minority and underresourced students introduced to a third-party peer connection tool improved their retention and overall enrollment rates.
Black students offered Nearpeer to connect with others at CSUN were nearly 17% more likely to enroll, complete their first year and return in fall 2023 for the new academic year. Moreover, 4% more first-generation students enrolled and persisted, and 8% more transfer students enrolled and persisted.
“Our Black student population at CSUN has been on the decline,” said David Dufault-Hunter, assistant vice president of enrollment services. “So to see [Nearpeer] encouraging our Black students to consider CSUN and ultimately enroll is a pretty significant encouragement for our institution.”
Students can use the peer-to-peer tool to connect with potential classmates, friends roommates and study buddies, all of which are relationships that help build student resilience and commitment and success.
The bump in enrollment, persistence and retention rates among these cohorts helped increase CSUN’s overall student enrollment by 4% and added over $7 million in tuition revenue.
These positive enrollment gains contribute to the growing well of data linking the importance of third-party mentorship and support services for under-resourced and minority students’ college success. A three-year report studying personalized success coaching in the North Carolina Community College System found a 47% persistence rate increase in third-term students with a medium and high dropout risk.
In order to compare the value of Nearpeer’s peer-to-peer engagement platform, the university split its 12,000 incoming fall 2022 students into a randomized control trial of two groups of 6,000 students. The enrollment and retention rates of the group who received were compared to those that didn’t. Students were also split evenly among sub-populations to ensure demographic changes were justly assessed.
Almost two-thirds of CSUN’s incoming Latino students were first-generation students, a cohort who particularly struggled with persistence and retention.
“Having access to Nearpeer alleviated my stress. I was able to make connections with people who also worked full time,” one CSUN student said, according to the report. “I was really stressing about being a full-time student and working full-time, and it was really good to hear that I wasn’t the only one.”
Even more surprising, these positive statistics result from only 26% of eligible students using Neerpeer. The report believes it’s due to its restricted promotion, as not to alert students who weren’t invited to use the device.