Inigral believes it can. Its product, the Schools App, is built on the Facebook platform and aims to connect university students and boost their integration and involvement in campus life, increasing the likelihood they'll graduate.Can social networking boost college completion? The education technology company
And the company can now tout a major backer in that endeavor. It has received $2 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the first direct equity investment by the Gates Foundation in a for-profit company as part of its charitable mission.
"We're excited that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shares our vision for the promise of social media to enhance educational outcomes," said Michael Staton, Inigral co-founder and CEO. "A college student's decision to drop out creates a lot of challenges, for that individual's future and our society at large. Our Schools App can increase a student's sense of belonging and integration within an institution, lowering the chances of attrition."
Boosting College Completion Through Facebook
The investment will help Inigram develop and market Schools App, currently in use by eleven schools, including Arizona State University, Stetson University and The University of Texas at Tyler. Students use the application to receive and share information about the academic and social environment at their school, as well as to find other students with similar interests, experiences or course loads and to organize face-to-face meetings. The cost for colleges to implement Schools App is based on the number of students, typically running between $10,000 and $50,000 per year.
Some college officlals contend that increased social and academic integration can boost student's learning and promote college completion. "The Schools App finds students where they live - online and on Facebook," says Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University. "Social media technology can help facilitate the transition to college life and encourage more students to earn a degree." Speaking to NPR, ASU's Kari Barlow says "We have some indication that first-time freshmen who opted to participate in the application were highly more likely to be retained for the next semester."
More research needs to be done, however, to establish a clear link between Facebook and graduation. Regardless, college graduation rates in the U.S. have remained stagnant for many years. According to some estimates, when today's fifth graders graduate from high school, an estimated 63% of jobs will require an education beyond high school. But currently, only 22% of high school students go on to earn a college degree.
The Gates Foundation's investment is part of its support for ways to improve education. Last year, it launched the Next Generation Learning Challenges, earmarking $20 million to fund innovative programs to promote college readiness and completion.