Degree Name

Master of Science

Department or Program

Mass Communication and Media Arts


Dr. Aaron S. Veenstra


Student retention is one of the most pressing issues in higher education across the United States. Difficulty retaining students has begun to cause concern for families looking to further their educational endeavors. Students find that college is too expensive, or that the ability to live at a destination school causes problems within families – distance, time-management or even that going to college is stressful and leads to a student not wanting to finish. Studies have shown that first year students and higher degree by research students tend to be more susceptible to attrition. Understanding that a student has to have a sense of belonging as soon as they are accepted into college weighs heavily on whether the student will commit to stay or to leave after that first semester or first year. Universities across the United States, more specifically Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), often struggle to retain students, due to the inability at times to recognize the problems and struggles that students are currently facing. Through a unique process of student – institution interaction, there is ample space and opportunity to reverse the trend of this issue reoccurring. Having the ability to connect with students through different outlets via “digital media” or “social media” can help repair broken communications within the post-secondary education systems. Throughout history, universities have often gone out of their ways to recruit students for their academic programs, and would stop at nothing to get a student to say “yes” to their schools. However, there are often times after the student has been secured and has made a commitment to that university, that the university loses sight on that student and begins to plan for future enrollment. The ability to understand and gauge what is lacking through the eyes of students, institutional efforts has to consist of: surveying, researching and interconnectedness in hopes to help bridge the gap of attrition.

This project conducts a user study that attempts to validate how interaction between institution and students through social and digital media can have an impact on developing a new creative way of student retention. Mainly focusing on the idea of hearing what students have to say about time spent in the university, the project aims to support the uses of media as a means of communication and an action plan to keep all parties engaged in higher education. The project will compromise of a research component that looks to unveil the issues of not having that connectedness between university and student, while also having a mockup model of a social media site that can be used to show how different needs of different students can be accessed by the university to cater to the needs of the students in order to retain these students in the SIUC systems. The project also hopes to show that through uses of social media and digital media, that universities (SIUC) can close the digital divide between anyone involved.

The data collected in this project will be collected through semi-structured interviews with currently enrolled SIUC students (freshmen, transfer students and graduating seniors. Interviews will address the ideas of what has to be done to in order to keep students here at SIUC. The students will also factor the outcome of the social and digital media site that is developed in hopes to aid with the retention efforts of SIUC. The study will also survey the possibilities of uses of social and digital media sites and they are used to keep students engaged in an interconnected society. The data will then be utilized in a way that can be proposed to university officials to implement the ideas that current students have and feel would work in the goal of retention.