1. Remember that co-curricular participation is personal.
Students participate in co-curricular programs because the programs connect to their personal history, values and beliefs, and goals. Make sure that you communicate how your project promotes personal growth.
2. Nest your co-curricular project in a community.
A community can be a class, an academic program or cohort, an existing interest group, a student organization, a student support group, a floor of a residence hall, etc. To make their co-curricular participation more accessible and manageable, target communities where students are already members. Generally, asking students to participate in a co-curricular activity that is based in a community where they are not members is a barrier to their involvement.
3. Build on that community.
Co-curricular experiences provide students with a community of support, access, and information. Capitalize on the benefits of community by intentionally incorporating it into your program. Students will have a more enriching experience if they are developing meaningful relationships with each other and with faculty and staff mentors.
4. Connect your co-curricular experience.
To create an effective and even transformative experience for the students who will participate, be sure that your project has an explicit academic connection and that it connects to other past and future activities in which your target students will most likely participate (other course work, professional organizations, internships, etc.).
5. Focus on quality.
Students notice and appreciate well-designed, quality experiences. In fact, high quality co-curricular experiences increase student’s pride in being UH students and their commitment to graduate. Well-structured experiences also help students make time for them.
6. Address barriers.
There are significant barriers to students’ participation in co-curricular activities: limited time and money, being responsible for taking care of family members, a need to work to provide for oneself, etc. In the structure of your program, you can address these barriers and promote access and equity for your students: show students how they can manage their time to include your activity and their other responsibilities, embed your project in an activity in which students are already participating (like a class), provide information about resources (like scholarships) as part of your program, and be transparent and explicit about your project’s timeline and participant responsibilities.
7. Acknowledge the role of gatekeepers.
Gatekeepers can help ensure access to co-curricular learning by connecting eligible students to programs they may not find or consider without encouragement, but gatekeepers can also inadvertently discourage students from participating.
For even the most motivated, proactive students, participating in a co-curricular program is made possible because a gatekeeper, often a faculty member, opened a door to the opportunity, not because the student found and walked through the door by their own effort.
First, identify ways that those gatekeepers may be shutting or obscuring access to your project:
- Is your opportunity advertised through a variety of communication methods that target students?
- If you have an application process, is the application easy to find and navigate? Are deadlines clearly communicated?
- What assumptions are you making about why students do not participate and who those students are? Are there ways of testing the accuracy of your assumptions?
- Are your participation requirements appropriate for the skills and experience needed to succeed in your particular experience?
Then, acknowledge the power of gatekeepers for your project and work with them to ensure that students engage in your transformative experience.
These tips are the results of a qualitative research study that CITE undertook in spring 2020. For a more detailed summary of the study, "Encouraging Student Participation in Co-Curricular Activities," visit Resources for Co-Curricular Learning.