The edtech company Inigral has a product called Schools App. It is built upon the Facebook platform and aims to connect students and so increase their integration and involvement in campus life.
Can social networking boost college completion? Would that kind of connection increase the likelihood they will graduate or even graduate "on time"?
Well, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seems to think it is possible. Inigral has received $2 million in funding from them. And, significantly, this is the first direct equity investment by the Gates Foundation in a for-profit company as part of its charitable mission.
The money will be used to develop and market Schools App. The app is already being used by 11 schools (Arizona State University is one) to connect with students who share their interests and to receive and share academic and social information about the academic and social environment at their school.
Inigral is a for-profit, so there is a cost. According to readwriteweb.com the pricing (based on the number of students) typically runs between $10-50,000 per year.
Being involved in an initiative myself where we hope to show increased retention and a positive effect on the graduation rate, I know that we need much more research on this. Showing a link between social media connectiveness and retention and graduation is difficult. ("connectiveness is not in my online dictionary - "Did you mean: connectedness?" it asks.)
And, do students want their academic and personal social lives to merge?
My own college has a low graduation rate that has been stagnant for the past 10 years, and that is not very different from most colleges. Even an increase of 1% would be significant, but with all the factors that affect that rate, it may be impossible to control for one factor, like social media use.