Feeling like you belong matters to your success.

That’s one of the key ideas in a recent report on college students from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report identified abilities that can support student persistence and success – beyond purely cognitive skills. Research suggests that a sense of belonging is one of the most promising of these abilities.

This makes sense on an immediate and human level – how can you achieve your goals if you’re constantly uncomfortable, questioning your place or second-guessing your value?

It’s also backed up by the numbers. Barnes & Noble College – a Padilla client – conducts significant research with college students nationwide. Two recent studies (which you can read in full here and here) examined the attitudes and behaviors of non-traditional students, including those potentially at risk of dropping out of school.

Only eight percent of these non-traditional students feel like they belong at their school.

That’s five times lower than traditional students – 41 percent of traditional students feel like they belong. Which is still less than half!

Here’s the good news: a student’s sense of belonging can be cultivated. It can evolve. And, schools can help.

Here’s the good news: a student's sense of belonging can be cultivated. It can evolve. And, schools can help.Click To Tweet

Fostering connections and relationships among students is a priority emphasized by Barnes & Noble College based on their research findings and daily interactions with campus communities nationwide. And, according to the National Academies, smaller-scale, low-cost activities can help achieve these goals.

In one example cited by the National Academies, first-year students learned that upperclassmen also worried about being accepted at school – but that their concerns lessened over time. The first-year students then wrote an essay and gave a speech on this theme. Activities like these ultimately helped improve grades, particularly for underrepresented students.

Academic skills will always be important to student success, but we cannot neglect the less tangible abilities that drive student perceptions and behaviors. Colleges and universities have an opportunity to boost a sense of belonging and connection through their student programming – which impacts longer-term recruitment and degree completion goals.