How Important are Friendships in Creating Successful Student Outcomes?

Happiness, health, and wealth are all contagious, at least that’s what Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler claim in Connected – The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

One of my favorite facts from this book is that people 3-degrees removed from us (most of whom we do not know) have more impact on say our happiness than $5,000 put in our pocket.

Hard to believe, but it turns out emotions, health and wealth are all contagious and spread through various social networks.

We’ve always believed that the friendships created at college are some of the most important you’ll make in a lifetime, but as we learned early on in our company history telling colleges we can help their students make friends didn’t seem like a strong value proposition.

Well, after three years of collecting data, it turns out our hunches (or should I say Michael Staton’s) was that student friendships matter–and we now have the data to prove it.

Social Transition Networks Are Critical

I strongly believe a student’s geography shouldn’t decide his or her destiny. When I think back to my transformative years at Ohio University, one of my biggest areas of personal growth came from when I left my high-school peer group behind, and set forth to make new friendships in a completely different environment.

While I love where I came from, there’s a sense of personal growth and identity exploration that can only happen when you literally and symbolically “leave your high-school years” behind to explore new paths.

Unfortunately student’s today have grown up with Facebook most of their teenage lives, and now spend an average of 3.5 hours a day engaging with and being influenced by a peer group and more importantly, a “high-school digital identity.”

My favorite part about our application, is that it provides students an intentional place where they can meet future friends and bridge the social gap to prepare for their new college experience.

Friendships Can Impact Yield and Retention

To quote the authors of Connected, “Interconnection is not only a natural and necessary part of our lives, but also a force for good. The key to understanding people is understanding the ties between them; therefore it was to the ties that we turned our focus. or to know who we are, we must understand how we are connected.”

After analyzing social engagement data from our 100+ partner institutions we’ve found a an extremely strong correlation between a student’s social engagement and their likelihood of enrolling at a particular institution.

While this may seem like common sense, there has been little hard evidence to back this up from any particular source. The great thing about our application is not only can we help students make friends, but we can also see those friendships forming in real-time.

Here’s an example of some international students reaching out and getting connected with other students from their region of the globe.

 Peer Relationships at a Small Private College

This past year, Bradley University was able to predict their incoming class size utilizing their social engagement data. After reviewing the relationships formed with the Class of 2016 they found a significant difference between students who engaged in the community and those who didn’t.

Here is a typical pattern we’ve seen averaging private university friendship data and enrollment rates from our partner institutions.

Increasing number of friends correlates with increased probability of enrollment

Increasing number of friends correlates with increased probability of enrollment.

With the introduction of our Enrollment Intelligence product, institutions can now understand in real-time what their incoming class of admitted students will look like.

According to Bradley University, “Our traditional forecasting models predicted a much different class than the Inigral app did and this year we will be utilizing the Inigral data.” said J.D. Dalfonso, Social Media & Web Marketing Coordinator.

Starting Smart at College

While Tinto and others have shown the importance of a student “social integration on campus” few colleges have a meaningful way to learn about these patterns. We recently surveyed 90 Deans, Directors and VP’s of Enrollment Management to hear their thoughts on the importance of student engagement as it relates to student success.

The results were as follows.

  • 93% of Administrators thought social engagement was important
  • 86% reported using social media to engage students
  • Only 33% were happy with their success metrics

How are you measuring what connections matter to your institution?

Share your comment below or join us for our next webinar covering the in’s and out’s of Social Enrollment Management.

  • jaysteele

    Brandon – Thanks once again for some fantastic data that is shaping how we will be using social media channels in the future for recruitment and retention initiatives. As you and your clients continue to compile quantitative data, these tools continue to move further down the “knowledge funnel”, as described by Roger Martin in “The Design of Business”. Mystery => Heuristics => Algorithm. Every time I see that table that correlates friends and enrollment, I am amazed. To think that students who only make two friends on a private Schools App Facebook network have an 80% probability of enrolling is simply overwhelming to me. Quite honestly, I don’t understand why others seem to almost overlook that data.

    I just can’t stop without asking – “extremely extremely strong correlation”? Seriously? “extremely extremely”? Did the marketing department make you say that? 😉



  • Brandon Croke

    Hey Jay, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’d like to hear more about the design of business sometime. 

    Ever since we conducted our first social enrollment analysis we were blown away by the numbers and have seen this correlation validated across a dozen other institutions. It’s unfortunate to see many institutions are not taking a “student centered” approach to social media and instead are focussing on vanity metrics such as Facebook likes or Pinterest followers.

    The “extremely extremely” was a typo and is now fixed thanks to your keen eye :)

  • Amber Palmer

    This is great post! and it’s crazy because before I went to this post I read the same topic as how can a friend plays a big role to our success. This is truly eye opener, I mean I have lots of friends but never for a second I thought of this. So maybe, just maybe we need to consider choosing the right friends for us. Here check this, you have same topic with this guy here