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Study Finds Facebook May Predict College Retention

August 20, 2010

Student typing on laptop and smilingCan Facebook be used to predict college retention? According to a study recently published in the Journal of College Student Retention, it can.

In his blog, Richard Beck, professor at Abilene Christian University and one of the authors of the study, said, "Prior retention studies had shown that social integration--feeling connected and involved with your peers on the campus--was predictive of retention." Because of Facebook's growing popularity, researchers wondered if it could be used to measure social integration at Abilene Christian University and, thus, predict college retention--defined in the study as returning to the university after freshmen year.

According to Wired, researchers randomly selected 375 incoming freshmen and studied their Facebook activity for nine months (from fall 2006 to summer 2007). Beck noted that four specific variables were analyzed: number of Facebook friends, number of wall posts, number of photos and how many groups the student joined.

Researchers found that students who returned the following year had significantly more friends and wall posts on Facebook than students who decided not to return, suggesting that these variables may help predict college retention. On average, returning students had 27 more friends and 59 more wall posts. Additionally, students who were active on Facebook were also more likely to be active in the real world. "The study was able to show that these students who are more active on Facebook are also out there getting involved, making new friends and taking part of activities that the university provides for them," said Jason Morris, one of the authors of the study who is also an assistant professor of education and director of higher education at Abilene Christian.

Beck was particularly interested in the wall post variable. "People can collect a lot of 'friends' on Facebook, but a Wall Post involves someone taking the time to come to your Facebook wall and write something. Usually, this signals a degree of intimacy," he said in his blog post.

The study is interesting as it comes at a time when people are debating over whether technology helps bring people together or isolates them from the rest of the world, reported Wired. A recent study led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that excessive exposure to violent videogames has made students less empathetic. The study also suggested that social networking sites allowed students to ignore real world issues, a behavior that would then carry over into real life.

Data from the Abilene Christian study was different, however. "[The study] all seemed to indicate that what was happening on Facebook was paralleling their social experience on campus. Rather than replacing it, it was mirroring it," said Beck.

Morris added that social networks could potentially serve as window into human behavior and provide data that is more objective than traditional surveys. He also told Wired that "instead of using [students'] perceptions we measured...with actual behaviors, which makes that a little more powerful as a study".


Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin

Sources:

"Active Facebook Users More Likely to Stick With College: Study," wired.com, August 18, 2010, Brian X. Chen

"Facebook, College and Social Connection," experimentaltheology.blogspot.com, August 18, 2010, Richard Beck

"Facebook Usage as a Predictor of Retention at a Private 4-Year Institution," Journal of College Student Retention, 2010, Jason Morris, Jeff Reese, Richard Beck, Charles Mattis

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