The Value of Student Organizations: My Experiential Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I sent an all-campus email asking for advisors for student organizations and sports clubs.  I want to support that email with this blog which provides some additional information about my call to action.

In my over 30 years in academia, I have been fortunate to have worked at institutions where I directly mentored, nurtured, and advised students. None of the work we did at any of those institutions were contractually obligated, we did what we did because it made a difference in the lives of those needy, underserved, and many times, at-risk students. I hear for some of these students now, and I have no doubt that we transformed and enriched their lives.

It is in that spirit that I propose the formation of various student organizations such as Business Professionals of America (BPA), Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), and Future Farmers of America (FFA), among others here at MCCC.

My entire academic academic career has been shaped by my involvement with student organizations and involvement in my community. Do these student organizations really have any value?  Well, based on my many years of experience working with business students as a faculty member and dean at three different institutions, they do.  What works in one place could work elsewhere (dare I say, even here at MCCC).  I believe my experiences have some value. Research also shows that students who are involved are more likely to stay. In essence, affinity groups are a retention tool.  The competitive student groups give institutions a positive reputation and sets them apart from the rest.

Here are some of my experiences:

At Talladega College in Alabama, where I was the founding dean of the Business Division, we had a strong Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) program with almost 20 students. I was co-advisor for a few years. We won several regional competitions and went to State and Nationals on several occasions. Retention and completion rates of SIFE members was 100%, compared to a 32% completion rate for the institution. Impact on our community, 200 plus students in K-12 and many others. We parlayed these, along with other efforts, into a $250,000 a year grant which became the largest employer of students on campus. We also leveraged our SIFE efforts to recruit local students to come to TC. We became the largest division on campus at a liberal arts institution. We took students who could barely talk and made them national stars. In essence, we transformed and enriched their lives.

At Lincoln University in Missouri, we had DECA, BPA, and an MBA organization — 25-40 members. Again, we won numerous awards and national championships year after year (I have plaques and pictures in my office now) – it was great recruitment material. Student retention and completion was 95 -100%. I have pictures of these students showing that it impacted diversity and that diversity works! Our business programs thrived because of these groups. The largest major on campus was business, the second largest was “undecided” — these organizations helped us convert many undecided students to business. We parlayed these organizations into a $225,000 grant. We transformed and enriched their lives.

At Davenport University in Grand Rapids, MI., we had huge BPA and DECA Chapters and won many national awards year after year. Retention and completion of these students was 90% plus, over four times what it was for the rest of the institution. We hosted, judged, and attended state, regional, and national competitions.  For several years in a row we won more BPA awards than any other institution in the nation.  That was part of my recruitment speech when we spoke to high school students. The enthusiasm of the students and advisors was electrifying. We transformed and enriched the students’ lives.

So, those are some experiential anecdotes and data from other institutions behind these inspirations, encouragements, and calls to action, even as we allocate precious time, energy, and resources. From my experiences, this is a critical retention and recruitment tool; perhaps more retention than recruitment. My data is from living this at three other institutions where these groups were very successful. We have no chance if we do not try. If it helps it helps, if it does not, at least we will have tried to transform and enrich the students’ lives.



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