Inigral‘s Schools App, which promises to create a virtual college community, received a $2 million investment from the Gates Foundation last week. It’s the first time the foundation has invested in a for-profit company.
Eleven colleges and universities use the app, including Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona.
Can social media keep students in college? NPR asks. The Schools App, which uses the Facebook platform, helps new college students quickly build a network of friends with similar interests — and perhaps the same courses — says Michael Staton, the CEO of Inigral.
Only students can gain entry to these sites, and they’re invited in the moment they are accepted to a school. The feel is supposed to be small and intimate, unlike schools’ fan sites on Facebook, which are open to everyone and don’t inspire much networking.
Colleges pay a small fee to Inigral to build the site with hopes the app will engage students and reduce attrition rate.
“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,” says Kari Barlow, an online administrator who spearheaded Arizona State University’s experiment with Inigral’s Schools App.
Peer support and a sense of community help students persist in college, but it’s not clear that social media can make a difference. Students who reach out to classmates online may be those who reach out in person too. But if social media does help build community, that could be especially helpful at two-year colleges with few campus-wide activities to link students.