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The Latest Stay-in-School Tool for College Students: Facebook

You’re in the middle of writing a 10-page term paper, it’s 11 p.m., and there’s no end in sight. Looks like it’s time for Facebook.

That ever-beckoning distraction has led some people to see the combination of the popular social network and studying as an academic disaster. However, a recently published study in the Journal of College Student Retention finds that frequent Facebookers are actually more likely to return to their initial college after their freshman year. It’s the latest in a series of studies exploring possible links between Facebook and academics.

In a survey of 375 randomly selected students at Abilene Christian University, those who were more active on the social network were likelier to return for their sophomore year. On average, returning sophomores had 27 more friends and 59 more wall posts than did students who didn’t return. 

Richard Beck, an author of the report, says there is often an “Animal House paradigm” associated with college students, meaning that all their time is either spent studying or slacking. But “it may be more complex than that, as students are trying to find both a vibrant academic and social life on campus,” he says.

The Facebook effect on college campuses is twofold, Beck says: Not only does the network make it easier for freshmen to find friends, but it also increases the likelihood of students’ developing deeper friendships following chance encounters.

Both aspects, he argues, lead to a deeper sense of connection on both campus and in the classroom.

Other studies, conducted by Northwestern University and the University of New Hampshire, have found no relationship between time spent Facebooking and academic performance.

Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies and sociology at Northwestern University, says studies making cause-and-effect claims about Facebook and student performance may fail to take into account another factor: socioeconomic background. Students with better-educated parents are both more likely to use Facebook and more likely to perform better academically, she says.

 “The types of things students can do on Facebook can cancel each other out,” Hargittai says. “On one end, the connections one can make on it make students feel more comfortable linking up with others for class notes and advice. On the other end, it can be used for procrastination. I think there is definitely more room for research on the topic.”

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