Spring semester presents new challenges for student life engagement

Following a rocky start to the semester and ongoing budget issues, student engagement has decreased compared to last semester.

Director of Student Engagement Stephen Cucchiara said engagement is usually lower in spring than in fall, but the ongoing issues have made it even lower than usual.

The first day of class this semester was cancelled due to inclement weather along with the first event of Winter Welcome Week: the commuter coffee and donuts.

“That’s a major opportunity for us to get the word out about ways of getting involved and also what’s available for engagement,” Cucchiara said.

Cucchiara said another possible contributing factor in the lower spring engagement is the Feb. 16 double homicide. He said the week following the homicides, all originally planned Student Life programming was halted and replaced with community support programs.

Student Life brought food, therapy dogs, office resources and activities into the lounge for students seeking community and a safe space following the crisis.

“There were a lot of students who asked to leave housing and had nowhere to go. There were some students who, when they were able to return, did not feel comfortable going back to their residence hall,” Cucchiara said.

Lack of funding has caused a decline in club events

Cucchiara said clubs are one of the branches that create engagement and a sense of community on campus.

Yet clubs’ abilities to do so have been stifled after the Budget Advisory Committee, the primary source for club funding, ran out of money and stopped funding clubs on Feb. 8 this semester. The committee had to deny funding proposals submitted by clubs who had filed them before the announcement was made.

Cucchiara said clubs aren’t hosting as many events because of the lack of funding, and the events they do host are limited to being much smaller scale with little to no catering, which is what draws many students to on campus events.

This was the first semester Feminist Club didn’t receive any funding, according to Vice President of the club Lisa Ward. “That has affected our ability to advertise. We’re doing the best we can with what we have and trying to get grants from different places,” Ward said.

Ward said acquiring grants has been difficult because many grants require the organization to have supplemental funding.

Feminist Club also had to rework some of their events after they found out they weren’t getting funding. “We wanted to have food and snacks at a lot of our events because we know that’s something that draws students in … so we had to cut that pretty much entirely from all our meetings,” Ward said.

To provide clubs with more support, Student Life hosts a meeting with clubs at the beginning of every semester to explain how the funding process works, how to apply for funding through BAC and how the department can support them. Ward said this resource is valuable for clubs, especially new ones.

Cucchiara said Student Life has had to dip into reserves to fund the ROAR Awards, UCCS’ annual student leader award ceremony, because of the lack of funding this semester.

“We’ve been able to look at some other partnership opportunities as well as using some of our reserve dollars to give student clubs and leaders the award ceremony that they deserve,” he said.

Student Life responds to low engagement through surveys and events

In response to low engagement, Student Life has many strategies to reach out to students to get them more involved, according to Cucchiara. The department’s outreach strategies include satisfaction surveys after an event, tabling to gauge student interests, student interest surveys and more.

Cucchiara said some common comments on these surveys include requests for more concerts, so they are collaborating with SGA to increase the budget to pay artists between $10,000 and $50,000; they hope to bring in more well-known artists.

Another common response from the surveys asks for more food at events.

President of Bug Club Audrey Fahland thinks UCCS catering is not the best option for clubs. “I hate going through catering for food because it’s expensive and it doesn’t taste very good, especially for all our guys, girlies and inbetweeners that have dietary restrictions,” she said.

She noted UCCS makes it very difficult and impractical to go through other catering options that aren’t the university or “nasty” fast-food chains.

While Fahland noted her appreciation for Student Life and how helpful they have been in getting Bug Club off the ground, she also feels like the department sometimes limits options for all clubs. “They have a lot of ‘their way or the highway’ type deal,” she said.

She wishes the department would give them the ability to give back to the community more by funding projects more through students or local businesses.

With approximately 88% of students living off campus, Student Life is trying to target commuter students more by hosting off-campus events and events during the day because their data has shown more commuter students show up during midday.

The department will also be working closely with SGA’s senator of commuter students, a new position that was just created this year, to find ways to get off-campus students more engaged on campus.

One of the biggest issues facing commuter student engagement is advertising. Fahland, who commutes to campus along with most of her club members, said she sometimes does not know what events are happening on campus despite being very engaged on campus.

She partially contributes this to a lack of organization from the Student Life Department. “Everything feels really disorganized and everything’s just kind of all over the place, and I think that’s mostly because everything’s run by students who are just like, ‘this is our first time doing stuff like this,’” she said.

Ward said the student-led department is better because the students are typically involved in clubs and know what’s going on and can be the “glue that is holding everything together.”

Ward thinks low engagement stems from an uninvolved community. “You’ll see engagement at the beginning of the semester, and that falls off pretty quickly,” she said. “As soon as students get into classes and the rhythm of things, if they’re not already going to those events, it seems like they don’t start.”

Another way Student Life is aiming to get students more motivated to be involved on campus is through the engagement leader program that was started this year and implemented in the fall semester.

Every incoming freshman was assigned an engagement leader who acted as a resource and encouraged students to come to Clyde’s Kickoff events. Cucchiara attributes a lot of the increase in event attendance for fall semester to the engagement leader program.

Student Life launched another new program to encourage engagement on campus at the beginning of this semester called Clyde’s Five. Clyde’s Five is an incentive program that encourages students to explore programming on campus through five different themes:

  • Tradition and Belonging
  • Holistic Wellbeing
  • Everyday Leadership
  • Social Responsibility
  • Global Engagement

Students who complete the program are recognized at ROAR awards and receive a graduation stole.

Ward noted that Student Life has been experimenting with events to try and get students more engaged. “It’s easy to say Student Life needs to be doing more… but I think that is much easier said than done,” she said. “Building a campus culture is ultimately up to students. If you don’t like what you see around you, it’s up to you to be part of that change.”

Student Life saw increased engagement in the fall semester

While engagement has gone down in the spring, Cucchiara noted overall engagement during the fall increased and highlighted some statistics that heavily contributed to that increase:

  • This year’s Clyde’s Kickoff saw a 31% increase in student attendance from the 6,543 students attending events in fall 2022. Only three events had small decreases in attendance. Most events saw a “significant” percentage increase.
  • DisOrientation week saw a 2% decrease in attendance from fall 2022 with 2,096 students attending events in total.
  • Other miscellaneous fall events from this year saw a 21.9% increase in student attendance from fall 2022 with 1,816 students attending events in total.

The total attendance at all events was 10,455 students, an increase of 1,876 students.

The number of registered clubs increased with 101 clubs in fall 2023 and 96 in fall 2022. Clubs hosted 146 events last semester compared to the 107 events hosted in the previous year.

The Student Life office. Photo by Megan Moen.