Why Student Associations are Essential to the University Experience
When it comes to the student experience, an essential part of fitting in at university is having a sense of belonging.
Student affairs researcher Alexander W. Astin said students who become more involved in university life tend to have higher rates of retention and satisfaction with their overall university experience.
University staff and faculties should make a conscious effort to help students find their place at school and help refer them or signpost them to the right organization on or off campus.
Student clubs and organizations can help students create connections, build relationships, and expand their skills outside the lecture hall. 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 the student association:
Organizations can vary drastically from 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.
Issues facing student associations:
Even before the COVID-19 shutdowns, there were still various issues at play for student associations in making sure they catered to everyone's needs.
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.
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. 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.
To ensure 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.