Keene State is looking to buck the national trend of declining student and community involvement with the COVID-19 pandemic in the past.
Almost one in three students at two-year and four-year institutions spend no time weekly on extracurriculars and campus events, according to a Student Voice survey of 3,000 students nationally conducted in the summer. According to the organization’s website, Student Voice is a student-led nonprofit that “works to equip students to advocate for solutions to educational inequity.”
More broadly, Americans have begun to value community involvement less. A Mar. 20 survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal found that 27% of respondents found it “very important” for citizens to be involved in their communities, compared to 47% in a 1998 survey.
Student Center Programs Coordinator Brandon Carta said the data the Office of Student Involvement has on their events from the 2022-2023 academic year “would probably say the opposite of [what] some of the national data [says].”
According to a Nov. 13 email sent to The Equinox by Carta, the fall 2022 semester saw an average attendance of 114 students per Student Involvement event . In the spring 2023 semester, there was an average attendance of 96 students per event.
“There’s been this sort of renaissance of involvement where people are certainly interested in starting new clubs or coming to new activities,” Carta said of KSC.
Carta explained there have been groups that closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the overall number of student organizations has risen.
“In 2020 we probably had a little under 50 actually active groups and now we’re very close to 70, if not actually above that number now,” he said.
A central focus of the office’s work going forward is looking at avenues to relaunch OwlNet, KSC’s online portal that houses student organizations and an events calendar, Carta said.
“We launched it [OwlNet] during COVID as a way to try to get more online engagement and it worked right at first but now it’s been a few years and it’s time to sort of re-remind people what that system does,” he explained.
Carta noted that there should be continued efforts to educate student organization leaders about what an engaging OwlNet page would look like, in addition to increasing campus awareness about OwlNet’s mobile application.
The topic of student involvement is a multipronged one, with experts in the field of mental health taking note of the effect social isolation and loneliness (SIL) have had on Americans and more specifically college students.
Younger populations felt 85% lonelier than adults 50 and over, according to a June 11, 2020 research paper published by the American Psychology Association (APA).
SIL has been linked to physical health effects such as increased risk for Heart Disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Jessica Gagne Cloutier, who serves as director of student involvement, said there can be a number of barriers that prevent students from getting involved in organizations or attending events, such as work commitments, an intensive course load or general anxiety about trying something new.
“If they [students] haven’t connected with that group of friends or haven’t found the activity or the organization that feels like home on campus, that’s a barrier, as it can be intimidating to come to an activity or event by yourself,” she explained.
Gagne Cloutier said students often get involved because of other students encouraging or motivating them to.
“The folks we see the most often coming to our events are coming with a small group of friends and I think are lifting each other up to do those things,” she said.
While Gagne Cloutier said the work of the student involvement office has been holding steady, there are a couple of areas with shortcomings in terms of engagement, namely with community service and academic work.
Before Gagne Cloutier’s tenure as director of student involvement, she had served as coordinator of community service, a position that no longer exists.
“Prior to 2020, for well over a decade we’d had a full-time person whose job was just engaging students in community service,” she said. “There was someone in academics as well, so at one point two full-time people, to one, to none.”
Now, with the two positions eliminated, she said that it could be a factor in declining participation in community service activities.
“I think on the community service end we’ve seen that decline [of participation], I think there’s a variety of reasons for it on campus but it’s certainly relevant to us,” she explained.
Formal volunteer participation has seen a decline nationally, with 23.2% of Americans saying they engaged in formal volunteering as compared to 30.2% in a 2019 survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and AmeriCorps.
One of the student involvement office’s longstanding traditions, Alternative Break, a community service-oriented trip offered to students, has seen a noticeable downsizing from previous years.
“In 2020 we had 10 trips scheduled, this year we have one, so big difference but [we’re] holding fast to make sure some of those opportunities are still present [for students],” Gagne Cloutier said.
Instead, students often opt for standalone events put on by the office, such as the weekly bingo and trivia nights and Night Owl Café (NOC) karaoke nights..
Jen Ferrell, who serves as vice president for student engagement, said involvement can take different shapes for students such as student organizations, attending activities, intramural sports or having an on-campus job.
“For me, that’s just as important as their time in the classroom because you’re only in the classroom for how many hours a week, and there’s a whole lot of hours to fill with things that are meaningful,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell noted involvement is two-fold and that students attending events is beneficial to those participating in them, such as sports games.
“Whatever ways that students can support each other in their events and activities, I think that’s huge because a student who feels supported and like someone cares is always going to be more invested and do better,” she explained.
Another aspect of student involvement is retention. Traditionally, college students who are involved in extracurricular activities of any kind are more likely to stay at that college.
A 2021 analysis by the University of North Texas (UNT) Division of Student Affairs found that students involved in one or more engagements resulted in a 16.11% difference in retention compared to those with no engagements.
Ferrell said the importance of involvement lies in creating a connection to campus, especially for new students.
“It’s just so important to find your community, the people who will support you and care about you,” she said.
Nathan Hope can be contacted at