New Report Shows EdTech Is Helping Students Connect to Peers

The College Innovation Network’s study highlights an unconventional strategy for increasing student retention

Salt Lake City, Utah, UNITED STATES

SALT LAKE CITY, March 23, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- ​The College Innovation Network (CIN), an initiative spearheaded by WGU Labs, today published the results of a study that highlights the importance of student connections in higher ed, and reveals that identifying shared interests through EdTech can be a powerful tool toward that end.

Previous research has revealed social connections to be critical to the academic experience. For example, a 2021 research study showed that incoming students who had friends on campus earned higher grades in introductory courses, and showed greater retention than those without existing connections. But after two years of learning and communicating from behind a screen, many of today’s higher ed students are struggling to make social connections and adjust to on-campus life.

The new CIN report, Making Peer Connections with Nearpeer at California University of Pennsylvania & Loyola University, New Orleans, shares how two diverse universities addressed this challenge. Both California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) and Loyola University, New Orleans (Loyola) implemented Nearpeer, a peer engagement app, prior to the start of the fall 2021 semester. 

“The majority of new college students report wanting help in making new friends,” said Nearpeer’s Chief Operating Officer Christopher Quinn. “Nearpeer does that—students can easily find others with similar interests, life experiences, majors, hometowns and more—and there is an implicit permission to connect, which makes it very comfortable and natural to have a conversation and develop a new friendship.” 

Brenda Fredette, Dean of Eberly College of Science and Technology at Cal U explained, “What is often overlooked in retention strategies is the need for students to remain connected and feel part of the campus community before they take their first course.” Speaking to the timeliness of the study, Elizabeth Rainey, Executive Director of Pan-American Life Student Success Center at Loyola, shared, “We know from 40-plus years of retention research that folks need to feel they belong to remain engaged and enrolled. COVID-19 interrupted the traditional ways of building connections through big campus events and student organizations, but technology allows for a less overwhelming and safer way to connect.”

Key findings from the study include:

  • Students using Nearpeer reported significantly greater peer connectedness than nonusers. Relative to nonusers, 12% more users agreed to the statement, “I feel connected to my peers at [Loyola/California] University,” and 17% more users agreed to the statement, “I enjoy getting to know my peers at [Loyola/California] University.”
  • 91% of users made at least one peer connection on Nearpeer.
  • 41% of users made at least one “real-life” friend because of Nearpeer.
  • When asked what they liked best about Nearpeer, 32% of users cited its user experience, 26% cited ease of connecting and communicating with peers, and 26% cited finding others with the same interests.

“Historically, students connected on campus through events and student organizations, but that is no longer the most effective way for them to meet,” said the report’s author, Dr. Nicole Barbaro. “This research shows that by leveraging technology, students can find more peers with common interests and hobbies to expand their social network on campus.” 

This report is part of a series of studies on student belonging and engagement, conducted by CIN. Dr. Omid Fotuhi, Director of Learning Innovation at WGU Labs, noted, “A sense of belonging is critical to students’ social and emotional wellbeing, but it isn’t something that can be forced or manufactured. Instead, a sense of belonging flourishes when people have access to effective channels through which to connect with similar others. Over time, meaningful connections are formed that connect students to each other, and to the rest of the community.”

About the College Innovation Network 
The College Innovation Network (CIN) was launched in 2020 by WGU Labs—Western Governors University’s research and development hub—with support from the Charles Koch Foundation. CIN is a network of higher education institutions committed to addressing the core challenge of promoting belonging and engagement in the modern higher education environment. We’re leveraging technology to build highly engaged learning communities from enrollment through graduation, and beyond. CIN supports educational institutions by identifying areas of need, implementing effective education technology for students, and demonstrating impact through research. Join us as we build learning communities where all students belong. Learn more at

About California University of Pennsylvania
With world-class academics, state-of-the-art facilities and proximity to Pittsburgh, California University of Pennsylvania offers more than just learning. Accredited and affordable, Cal U provides students with an excellent educational experience at a tremendous value. Our professors are some of the best in their fields, committed to academic excellence and intellectual rigor, and offering real-world experience. Learn more at

About Loyola University, New Orleans
Loyola University, New Orleans is a Catholic, Jesuit university located in the heart of the picturesque Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. For more than 100 years, Loyola has helped shape the lives of its students, as well as the history of the city and the world, through educating men and women in the Jesuit traditions of academic excellence and service to others. Loyola’s more than 50,000 living graduates serve as catalysts for change in their communities as they exemplify the comprehensive, values-laden education received at Loyola. Learn more at

About Nearpeer
Nearpeer helps higher ed leaders improve enrollment, equity, and the student experience. Our peer-to-peer engagement platform and matching algorithms are highly effective as a catalyst for meaningful, 1:1 connection for students—and separately, for parents and family members. Each institution’s exclusive, virtual peer network reinforces a sense of belonging and community throughout the student lifecycle. Learn more at


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