What is the Social Belonging Program?

The Social Belonging program is a class session built around a video that features UIC students discussing their challenges in transitioning to college. In each case, the students acknowledge their uncertainty about fitting in and succeeding, and they also speak to what allowed them to recognize that other students were experiencing the same doubts and what allowed them to succeed. After the video is shown, students then engage in an instructor-facilitated discussion or an online reflection about the topics in the video.

Why This Approach?

Most students face challenges in the transition to college, from making new friends, to achieving academic success, to building relationships with advisors and professors. It is normal for any student to be uncertain about making the adjustment. This can be especially the case for first generation students, low income students, or students from underrepresented minorities, whose potential uncertainty about belonging in college may be reinforced by their perceptions that others around them are not struggling with the transition.

Based on the research, incoming first-year students benefit from efforts to increase their sense of belonging as they begin their time in college. The Social Belonging program helps students reappraise their concerns, break out of the cycle of doubt, and ultimately succeed.

Collaborative Development of the Video and the Program

The video is a collaboration between the Partnership for College Collaboration (based in Chicago), the College Transition Collaborative (based at Stanford University), and UIC’s Office for Research on Student Success. The video is grounded in prior research that social belonging and engagement are crucial to retention. In addition to the video featuring UIC students, the Social Belonging program uses training and curricular materials developed collaboratively by three UIC offices: the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs and Academic Programs, the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, and the Library.

UIC piloted the program in first-year seminars in the 2018-19 academic year, along with two other area universities, collectively impacting 4,000 students. UIC’s Office for Research on Student Success and the University of Chicago Poverty Lab are co-Principal Investigators on a randomized controlled trial study of this pilot intervention, and the ORSS is also conducting an in-depth process evaluation of the intervention. In the 2019-2020 academic year, the program continues at UIC, no longer in a pilot phase; additionally, several other area universities are beginning pilots of their own.