Social belonging programs

Local governments can invest in this strategy using State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

  • This strategy can help address educational disparities. The U.S. Department of Treasury has indicated that strategies that help achieve this outcome are eligible for the use of Fiscal Recovery Funds.
  • Investments in this strategy are SLFRF-eligible as long as they are made in qualified census tracts or are designed to assist populations or communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

Program overview

  • Aim to reduce students’ social isolation and its effects on academic achievement
  • Employs narratives that describe the social experiences of upper-level students at the university
  • Reframing adversity as common and transient rather than something unique to students or their ethnic group
  • Researchers had students write essays to internalize the messages and make video testimonials for future students

Evidence and impacts


Social belonging programs are not yet in any of the major clearinghouses, but have demonstrated positive results in an independent, high-quality evaluation conducted by

  • No statistically significant results on general population
  • Statistically significant effect on GPA

Best practices in implementation

  • Note: This content is under review.
  • Partner with administrators and senior leaders to incorporate social belonging framing into campus-wide messaging and to pursue a broader culture change that fosters belonging, especially with orientation or Welcome Week communications.
  • Leverage the “saying-is-believing” effect by having students share their experience of belonging both in written form and spoken form. Consider using anonymity in these exercises.
  • Recruit older students to facilitate social belonging programming and to share their own stories of non-belonging.
  • Avoid singling out students from stigmatized groups or delivering interventions only to them; effective social belonging programs pursue a broad campus culture shift.
  • Effective program delivery can vary, including both in-person programming to online platforms.