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Student Retention

Student Development

3 minute read

How Co-Curricular Programs Impact Student Development, Persistence, and Future Employment

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Student success is often used as a two-word summary for the entire student journey – from engagement to retention; from persistence to career readiness. Student success consists of many areas of student development, including:

  • Academics
  • Student satisfaction
  • Hard and soft skills
  • Core competencies
  • Persistence
  • Achieving goals
  • Readiness for life after graduation.

Yet, student involvement outside the classroom is a key variable that is often ignored or overlooked in the student success conversation. A student's co-curricular transcript can make just as great of an impact as their academic transcript when it comes to growth, persistence and career readiness.

Co-curricular  involvement directly impacts career readiness and hire-ability

According to research conducted at the Center for the Study of Student Life at The Ohio State University, employers rated the students who were at least minimally involved as significantly more hire-able than those who were not involved at all. Employers also rated highly-involved students as significantly more career-ready than uninvolved or minimally-involved students.

The findings of this study and similar research imply that any type of co-curricular involvement in college is beneficial to students’ career aspirations and that more involvement is noticed by employers.

The research continues further, finding that students who were involved in at least one co-curricular activity were:

  • 2.1 times more likely to be satisfied with their overall experience at Ohio State
  • 1.8 times more likely to have a job offer at the time of graduation
  • 1.7 times more likely to express interest in attending graduate or professional school

Employers are looking for ambition, variable skillsets and well-rounded employees. An academic transcript only shows how a student performed in class, while the co-curricular transcript paints a picture of who the student is, what matters to them and what kind of skills they bring to the table.

Project CEO survey of more than 15,000 students from 40 schools found that co-curricular activities have a greater impact than any other out-of-classroom activity on building the top work skills valued by employers.

Student involvement makes a statistically significant difference in the student journey

When students participate in co-curricular activities, they build confidence, form relationships, increase collaboration, improve their problem-solving, gain new skills, improve resilience, nurture individual well-being and develop crucial skills for life after college.

Students engaged in experiences outside of the classroom are developing different skills than those who are only engaged in the classroom, bringing balance to the student experience and helping to nurture the student holistically.

Students with low involvement in activities rate lower in satisfaction towards aspects of student life, while students with higher involvement rated higher.

Student affairs professionals often meet resistance when attempting to showcase their contributions to the student success equation, but more research continues to surface on the value of out-of-classroom experiences throughout the student journey, and how that correlates to a positive college experience.

The bottom line is: The more involved a student is, the more they will be satisfied with their college experience.

Co-curricular engagement is directly correlated to student persistence

The National Survey of Student Engagement shows that student success is directly linked to student involvement. Survey results highlight that the more involved a student is, the higher their grades are and the more likely students are to re-enroll the following semester, which correlates directly to satisfaction and persistence.

Higher levels of social co-curricular engagement have a proven positive correlation with persisting in college while higher levels of academic engagement can even be detrimental to persistence. It's all about balance.

Cal State Sacramento study found that students who were more involved on campus had higher rates of retention and graduation as well as higher GPAs overall. 

Higher levels of engagement in a variety of co-curricular activities significantly contribute to increased cumulative GPA (eligibility requirements) and student perception of the overall academic experience (memories outside the classroom/experiences).

How can my institution use co-curricular activities to increase student success (and persistence and retention)

The best way to ensure your students and institution are reaping the benefits of co-curricular involvement? Here are a few tips to ensure your students know what is available to them and how to find their options.

  • Mobile accessibility: most students are on their phones non-stop. By giving students mobile-first resources, and ways to engage directly from their phones, you're increasing the likelihood they'll get plugged in.
  • Diversity in offerings: Over the past 2 years, we've learned how crucial it is to be adaptable. Offering groups, activities and communities that your students can get involved in both in-person or virtually gives students the ability to join in, regardless of whether they live on or off-campus or if they feel uncomfortable interfacing in person currently.
  • Make it a competition: Gamify student engagement and watch your students thrive. Offer incentives for getting involved, signing into events or registering for clubs. Allow your students to earn points for building their co-curricular transcript and watch them climb the leaderboard. Gamifying engagement relieves some of the pressure, makes it fun and builds healthy camaraderie and competition.

Participating in co-curricular activities benefits students personally, socially, mentally, and professionally.

Remember, students don’t need a full resume of service or to be the Vice President of an organization to be considered career-ready or hireable.

The skills and experience gained in a variety of organizations and roles create well-rounded, career-ready students. Co-curricular activity has a noticeable, positive effect on student satisfaction, persistence, and employers’ perceptions.


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Jessica Fischer

Jessica Fischer