Can Social Networking Keep Students In School? Some colleges and universities see half of their freshmen classes drop out. In an effort to help stem the tide, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is investing $2 million in a private company that creates student-only online college communities where students can get support from their peers.

Can Social Networking Keep Students In School?

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


This is the time of year when students are wondering if they'll be accepted to the college of their choice. Many colleges and universities are asking themselves another question: How can we hold onto students once they're enrolled? Some schools see half their freshman class leave.

NPR: social networking.


LARRY ABRAMSON: Those strategies can help. But the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been looking for new approaches. Today, the foundation is announcing it will invest $2 million in a company that's trying to build virtual college communities. Michael Staton is president of Inigral, which builds school-based Facebook sites.

MICHAEL STATON: What we do is make sure that when students arrive, they either already have assembled or very quickly assemble that kind of peer support.

ABRAMSON: Columbia College, an arts and media school in Chicago, has been experimenting with the site. Samantha Saiyazonsa, a sophomore in journalism there, says it helps her merge her social and academic lives.

SAMANTHA SAIYAZONSA: Actually check to see what - who's in my class and what their schedules kind of look like. That's really my favorite thing to do.

ABRAMSON: Kari Barlow has been in charge of Arizona State's experiment with the school's app.

KARI BARLOW: Yeah, we have some indication that first-time freshmen who opted to participate in the application were highly more likely to be retained for the next semester.

ABRAMSON: It will be tough to show whether these efforts played any direct role in students' decision to stay or go. That's a subject for future research. And, of course, many students are out of reach of this and other approaches. Alexis Thompson, a sophomore who uses Columbia College's site, says it only works if kids work with it.

ALEXIS THOMPSON: That's something that they have to be proactive about. So the Facebook app can be there, but unless you're being proactive and you want to go out and look for things like that, it's really on the student.

ABRAMSON: Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

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