Jun 17, 2013

Facebook supports College Knowledge

Independent educational consultants (IEC’s) are all over social media.  They have informative websites and Facebook pages.  And they blog, tweet, link, and pin.

In fact, a quick scan of social media shows IEC’s in every corner of the country using free and readily available resources to convey all kinds of messages about colleges and the college admissions process.

On Facebook in particular, IEC’s communicate with clients and colleagues as well as reach out to audiences both locally and around the world.  They post links to news and use social media to share pictures from college tours or offer professional advice free to anyone connecting to their pages.

While the marketing advantage of such social media engagement is largely unproven and no one really knows who is looking at what, researchers at Michigan State (MSU) and the University of Michigan discovered interesting side benefits to time spent on the pages of Facebook—for one important group of students.

A survey of more than 500 high school students in a low-income area of Michigan found that Facebook connections can help first-generation college applicants feel more confident about their ability to get into college and succeed once they enroll.

“We think social media may demystify the college experience, because kids are able to see how others like them experience the process,” said Nicole Ellison, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.

To see how well students understood the college application process, the survey asked participants about social media use and to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “I know how to apply for financial aid” and “I know what I need to include in a college application.”  

Of the sample, 12 percent indicated they used social media to get information about how to apply to college.  And Facebook connections appeared key to discovering this information.

Based on their results, researchers urged guidance counselors and administrators to “explore new ways to help juniors and seniors navigate their steps through social media” and suggested the possibility of offering application help through Facebook.

"Our message to high school students is that even if they are disadvantaged in terms of financial resources or parental support, social media can help them access resources they may already have in their extended social networks," said D. Yvette Wohn, a doctoral student at MSU.

But what the folks in Michigan may not know is that is that a small army of IEC’s is already pioneering resource-sharing projects.  And based on who “Likes” and/or possibly connects with their pages, much of this information may actually be reaching low-income first generation college students and their families.

The study, titled "The role of social media in shaping first-generation high school students' college aspirations: A social capital lens," will be presented June 18 at the International Communication Association conference in London, and was recently published in the journal Computers and Education. The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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