Butler University’s Institute for Well-being has announced a new partnership with Nearpeer, the leading peer-to-peer student platform for universities, to establish a working Community of Practice for higher education leaders to collaborate on data-driven approaches to creating a foundation for new student success with a focus on intentionally fostering a greater student sense of belonging early in their college journey. The Community of Practice comes at a pivotal time for the United States as it faces record levels of youth and young adults reporting anxiety, depression, isolation, and loneliness.

The collaboration will focus its efforts on “Belonging Before Arriving,” to ensure incoming students feel a greater sense of community and connection before they matriculate. This initiative is designed to support higher education leaders in enhancing the new student experience and promoting greater belonging, well-being, and inclusion. Through the ongoing work of Butler’s Institute and Nearpeer’s student impact studies, the partners will focus on the “ABCs” of student engagement, which include Authenticity, Belonging, and Connection.

The Community of Practice will examine the Butler Institute’s body of student well-being research and other resources, coupled with Nearpeer’s student impact studies, to identify what works as incoming students engage with institutions, what gaps exist, and opportunities to build on these programs during students’ first year—all to ensure students feel connected to their peers, their campus, and the greater community, as well as the measurable impact these platforms have on student recruiting, retention, and inclusion.

“Incoming college students are eager for opportunities to express their authentic selves and establish lasting connections with peers. As such, institutions should proactively cultivate a sense of belonging even before students arrive on campus,” Frank E. Ross, Vice President for Student Affairs at Butler University, said. “The U.S. Surgeon General’s recent We Are Made to Connect Tour underscored the vital role of peer connections in mitigating loneliness. Recognizing that importance, additional support, especially for incoming students, is essential to ensure their resilience and success, as exemplified by our own students who benefited from the Nearpeer platform.”

The Community of Practice will build on the results Butler has achieved with Nearpeer for its own Fall 2023 entering students, who had more than 60 percent voluntary adoption of Nearpeer. Based on Butler’s student survey of Nearpeer users, 87 percent reported that the platform helped them to present a more genuine version of themselves to their classmates, and 39 percent of students who indicated having social anxiety reported feeling less anxious.

“Fostering connection and belonging before a student’s first term creates a positive momentum that improves the student experience, delivers meaningful gains in enrollment and retention, and reduces pressure on staff,” Dustin Manocha, Founder and CEO of Nearpeer, said. “We’re excited to partner with Butler’s innovative Institute for Well-being to help leaders leverage the insights, practices, and technology to bring this momentum to their own institution, starting with incoming 2024 students.”

The Community of Practice provides collaborative insights that drive effective innovation, yielding visible and measurable outcomes for both students and institutions. Institutions that join the Community of Practice will meet twice a quarter to share insights and best practices to maximize outcomes for students. Once students are engaged on campus, Butler will facilitate its Student Well-Being Institutional Support Survey (SWISS) for each institution to help identify other areas of improvement as well as measure the impact of the recommendations put in place by the Community of Practice. Nearpeer will provide access to its Platform for Belonging™ for incoming and new students at participating institutions, along with comprehensive support services for easy launch and management.