Leveraging Technology through an Integrated Marketing and Student Engagement Strategy

Concurrent Session 5

Brief Abstract

While residential student affairs practitioners can communicate and engage students in person, it is more challenging to build community with online learners in the same way. With geographic differences, limited attention spans and a societal reliance on technology, online learners must be engaged with in the way they prefer. A two-way communication model should also be leveraged to build community and encourage affinity with the institution. These ideas are introduced in combination with an example of a student affairs-marketing partnership that provides and promotes student engagement and community building efforts using technology that bring the brand promise of “one university, no matter the location” to life.


Dr. Adams serves as the director of student affairs at Penn State’s World Campus. She has been working in higher education for 10 years, primarily with online and adult learners and in her current role, supervises a team of student affairs professionals that provide career counseling, student conduct and advocacy, mental health, student clubs and organization and student leadership programming support to the over 20,000 Penn Staters that are studying online. She earned her bachelors & Maters degrees in Sociology from Truman State University and DePaul University, respectively and her PhD. from Saint Louis University.

Extended Abstract

Online learners present a unique challenge to student affairs professionals who are experienced in engaging a captive residential audience. It is well-known that online students have competing priorities, balancing school, work, family, and other responsibilities. Demographic data also shows that online learners get younger, with the average of online learners declining steadily. With this decrease in age comes a greater familiarity with technology, and an expectation from students that technology will be used to engage them. Engagement is a priority for students, and those who promote engagement opportunities must rise above the increasing clutter in students’ lives to make an impact. This impact goes beyond the cocurricular aims of student affairs, as engaging and connecting students is a key part of student retention (Tinto, 2007). Leveraging technology effectively to build community among students, therefore, must be a key part of retention strategy. If social connectedness and student involvement are also important elements influencing student retention, then this type of social connectedness must occur digitally for online students.

In this presentation we explore the development and prolifeeration of a partnership between student affairs and marketing, and how these partners have been able to capture the preferred types of engagement experiences of a diverse online student body, and foster engagement and affinity with the university as a whole.  This presentation will also proposes a different strategy for online student engagement efforts that emphasizes two-way communication and maximizes virtual touchpoints by using technologies that students are already familiar with to encourage engagement. The presentation will include concrete examples of student engagement opportunities made possible and made successful by the use of technology and a integrated marketing strategy. We will also review how this marketing strategy has supported organizational wide retention efforts as well.