Student Belonging: What It Is and Why It Matters

Student belonging has become a key focus in discussions about higher education. It’s frequently mentioned, but what exactly does it mean, and how can we enhance it?

The answer lies in creating a welcoming campus community. When students feel accepted, valued, and heard, they develop a sense of belonging, which profoundly impacts their entire college experience, shaping their social lives, academic performance, and future careers.

The Three Dimensions of Student Belonging and How to Enhance Them
Research by Haworth Learning identifies student belonging in three dimensions: social, academic, and institutional. While strategies may vary across campuses, all college campuses can bolster students’ sense of belonging by cultivating these dimensions. 

  1. Social Dimension: This involves creating a community where students feel they would be missed if they weren’t there. 
    Enhancement Strategy: Design campus spaces that create “social collisions” where people can meet friends and make new acquaintances. Student centers, cafés, study lounges, and libraries are campus spaces that can be designed to facilitate spontaneous interactions. Students frequently cross paths and mingle, which helps form new social connections and friendships.

  2. Academic Dimension: This ensures students have what they need for academic success, such as relationships with faculty members and a comfortable learning environment to ask questions, engage in class, and interact with other students. 
    Enhancement Strategy: Ensure students have everything needed for academic success, including well-trained tutors and advisors who help students develop competence and confidence

  3. Institutional Dimension: This fosters a connection to the institution itself, with students feeling pride in their school and engaging with its resources and community. 
    Enhancement Strategy: Create engaging and flexible spaces that give students a sense of belonging and promote connection and collaboration, including comfortable seating and easy access to power. Classrooms and meeting rooms can be easily rearranged to foster collaborative interaction. Provide enclaves for first-year students to engage informally with peers and start to feel more integrated on campus.

Actively Seek Student Involvement
Understanding student needs requires more than just including them in discussions; it’s about actively listening to and valuing their voices. To encourage this, there needs to be ample opportunity for all students to contribute, not just those in leadership roles. This can be achieved through face-to-face conversations and surveys to gather this crucial input.

Creating campus spaces and atmospheres that enhance belonging isn’t one-size-fits-all and takes time and effort. However, when colleges and universities focus on the social, academic, and institutional dimensions of belonging, it benefits both the student and the institution.

Learn More
To hear more on this topic, watch a recent webinar held by Haworth.  In this facilitated conversation, you will hear from a panel of university experts as they share insights into why a sense of belonging is imperative for college students, how it’s defined, what research says about it, how campus environments support it, and how it impacts student success.

If you are interested in discussing this or other topics with a local Higher Education consultant in your area, please contact Haworth representative Kelsey Heng at kelsey.heng@haworth.com. To learn more about leveraging the FoundationCCC’s agreement with Haworh, please contact cbcontracts@foundationccc.org.

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